Tame the IM Jungle

May 30, 2009 at 10:05 pm Leave a comment

iChat is a really nice chat app that Apple includes with every copy of Mac OS X.  I rarely use the video or audio capabilities, typically using it strictly for instant messaging. But iChat can’t communicate with MSN Messenger, or Yahoo Messenger contacts.  Another annoyance is that if you add accounts for the various services that iChat supports (AIM, ICQ, Jabber, and Google Talk), they show up in separate windows.  (There may be a way around this, but I could not find it.)  Assuming you have friends on MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger, you could end up with a pile of windows on your desktop to handle basic IM tasks (several of them being iChat windows).

You might say “Just switch to Adium”.  That would be one solution, since it supports literally butt-load of IM protocols.  Literally.

For many people, changing to Adium is a fine solution.  But I had other needs:

1.  My wife REALLY likes iChat.
2.  I need a private IM network.
3.  I wanted a centralized way of controlling all the IM that takes place on my network out to all the major IM services.
4.  And I wanted to log it all.

If you have similar needs and a server laying around to use that runs either Windows, Mac OS, or Linux, then the answer to all these things is OpenFire.

My wife home schools several of our children and the majority of their school work is done on computer using the excellent program Switched-On Schoolhouse (which I highly recommend to anyone interested in home schooling their children).  We wanted an instant messaging system the kids could use for school work that was completely separate from the public IM networks.  This way, they can IM my wife with quick questions and get a quick answer without the worry of anyone on the outside talking to the kids when they should be working.  Openfire took care of this easily.

It wasn’t until my wife mentioned how annoying it was that she had an iChat windows for every service that I paid attention to the plug-ins available for Openfire.  I discovered the “IM Gateway” plug-in, which lets you register an internal (openfire) user with their corresponding external IM services.  So, a single openfire user can be linked to multiple external services, but as far as iChat (or any other Jabber-enabled chat client) is concerned, all your MSN, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, etc. friends are accessible through the same IM service.  This gets rid of the multiple window problem my wife had with iChat.

Perhaps I’m a control freak, but I wanted all IM services on my network to run through a central server.  I haven’t locked down the outgoing firewall ports for these IM services yet (to only allow them from the openfire server), but that’s probably coming soon.

I have a teenage daughter and son, and I’m concerned about who they are chatting with.  I’m not terribly interested in the messages they send back and forth to their friends, but I’d like to have the ability to check up on them if I suspect anything is going on, or if, heaven forbid, one of them goes missing.  Openfire’s “Monitoring Service” plug-in handles this nicely, allowing you to either just keep statistics, or to actually log entire conversations.  And, you can search the logs by date, keyword, participants, etc.  Oh, and don’t worry about the privacy of my kids…  I specifically told them I’d log their IM, so they are aware.

Anyhow, there are a bunch more plug-ins for openfire, many of which would be more useful in a business setting (like the one to integrate it with Asterisk, or the FastPath plug-ins for managing chat queues, such as a support team might use).

So, if you have any of these needs, tame that IM Jungle and get openfire!

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Entry filed under: General, Mac, Networking.

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