Using Instant Messaging as a Support Resource - Page 3

 By Troy Thompson
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IMUnified aims to support protocols developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to create standards for instant messaging. A few companies have decided to go ahead and make interoperability a reality. The IM services Jabber, Everybuddy, and Bantu offer software that integrates different IM services into one program. You still have to have an account with each service, but you can access them all from one application. Until interoperability standards are decided, you may have to use Jabber or a similar product if you need to communicate with several IM services.

Dangers and Inadequacies

Although the potential uses for IM are growing in leaps and bounds, it must be noted that there are risks associated with using it:

  • Lack of security--The messages sent across IM are not secure. There is no encryption, which means that if your message is intercepted, it can be read without any special key.

  • No tracking--IM messages cannot be tracked like e-mail. For instance, it is not possible to retrieve messages that have been sent via IM. Many companies also bill their clients based on minutes or hours of consultation. Unlike the telephone, you cannot track how much time was spent with a client using IM.

  • Susceptibility to viruses--Companies have placed a lot of emphasis on preventing their e-mail systems from spreading viruses. Many IM services will allow the transfer of files, and these transfers can circumvent the measures taken to prevent viruses on your system.

Firewalls and Proxy Servers

You can run into many problems when using IM with firewalls or proxy servers. If you are trying to connect from behind a firewall that does not use proxy servers, Yahoo Messenger will automatically search the firewall for an open port, and, if it finds one, use that port to connect. If it's not able to find an open port, ask your system administrator to open port 5050 to the pager servers, cs1.yahoo.com, cs2.yahoo.com, and cs3.yahoo.com.

When using AOL software, you may get the message "Error loading ticker file" when you are behind a firewall or proxy server. There is no solution for this problem yet. If you have disabled ports on your proxy server for increased security, you may also be blocking some IM packages from communicating. You may have to ask your system administrator for an IP address and a port number before you can use IM. Some common ports for various IM packages are: AOL port 5190, ICQ port 4000, IRC port 6667, MSN port 569. In some cases, when you are running Microsoft Proxy Server, loading Microsoft Proxy Client on your workstation will allow your IM software to function.

There are many other concerns in using IM with firewalls and proxy servers, too many to cover in one article. Most of the IM sites have a troubleshooting page that addresses issues specific to their software.

The Future of IM

The future of IM will go far beyond the consumer desktop. Soon, you will be able to get traffic updates, weather reports, and live customer support sent directly to your cell phone, pager, television or car. Devices such as printers may send you an instant message to let you know they are out of ink or paper. A refrigerator may tell you to get milk or eggs. Microsoft also plans to incorporate IM into its Office products in the future. //

Troy Thompson, MCSE+Internet, is a freelance consultant in the Louisville, Kentucky area.

This article was originally published on Oct 17, 2000
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