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Office Communications Server (OCS) is one of Microsoft’s hidden gems. Everyone hears about Windows, Exchange and SQL Server, but you could be excused for never having heard of OCS, the evolution of Microsoft’s corporate instant messaging service. There are a lot of competitors, but OCS has excellent integration with Microsoft …

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I think you have this wrong...

"It was such a success that Microsoft decided to license it separately. "

Exchange IM was a huge failure however you choose to measure it. Microsoft licensed OCS separately as there was money to be made. IBM was eating up the corporate IM space with Sametime, and Microsoft needed something to compete that was enterprise grade. Exchange IM was not that product. Microsoft then spent time analyzing the marketing and realized the opportunity for IM solutions that were more focused on telephony than pure IM, that's where OCS came from, good market research and product planning.

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Go

Very accurate

2005 sucked ass with it's clunky admin UI and hard-as-nails install.

I'm now 90% finished with our 2007 deployment. It's a truly excellent product. Using it with Office 2007 / Win7 on the desktop, SharePoint and Exchange server side makes one hell of an intergration... People are on the intranet and can see people's status, as well as clicking on a contact within Outlook to call them (or IM them) and can do the same for collaboration documents / projects within Office.

Kick ass product for a MS shop.

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Gates Horns

Clients?

Does OCS still only work with MS client software? One of the reasons we spiked LCS when our "all windows everywhere" admin was pushing for it was lack of clients for non-windows boxes that weren't horrible

A

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Sky

OCS is nice at first glance if you have no voice experience..

OCS does proprietary stuff, so interworking to other devices requires media interworking to Microsoft's codec. It doesn't scale without more boxes. Their dial plan is a bit of a joke. Some believe OCS is ideal because it just needs Windows experience which many admins have, but actually installing and configuring something like Cisco callManager is a lot quicker, and is single-box solution.. OCS can be installed single-box but its not recommended.

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Anonymous Coward

We've just had this "rolled out"

to replace sametime. Unfortunately as we've only been given access to the web client, nobody uses it, as it's a massive step backwards in functionality.

Hopefully we'll get a client version, and it won't just be a corporate "MSN messenger"

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what's so great?

we used to do team meetings (rest of team is mostly in US) via skype and a google-docs presentation.

Now we have OCS, and sharepoint for the agenda. And it falls over all the time. And the "shared" document has to be checked out and back in.

Sucks.

Maybe it's the administrator who didn't set it up well but hey, google/skype always worked.

But at least OCS costs money so it must be good.

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Anonymous Coward

Does it work outside of the Intranet yet?

The version we have at w**k simply doesn't work at all outside of the corporate network - this makes it completely and utterly useless, so we actually use Skype instead, and our IT dept are intending to completely remove it during the next lot of roll-outs.

It would work if we VPN into the corporate network, but VPN tends to be dodgy over most hotel internet connections (read low-bandwidth-high-latency) and makes bad latency considerably worse.

A corporate communication technology that doesn't allow your travelling salesmen, technicians and other out-of-office staff to communicate without a bandwidth-sapping VPN is rather pointless.

End-to-end purpose-based encryption works a lot better - though the retention policy has to be self-administered.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes it can be

Yes, it can be configured to work on normal internet connection, which is encrypted, however most companies dont want to do that for security reasons, also if your VPN is that bad, your guys need to look at it. I have many guys that work in pretty remote locations, work out of hotels all the time and some even use dial up when there is no other option, and never have issues with VPN, they say its as fast as the internet.

OCS is great when its implimented properly.

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FAIL

Payola

This sounds like paid advertising to me....

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Pint

@easytoby

Don't I wish. I am not going to say I am above being bought: I have a mortgage, impending wedding...things that give me sleepless nights. I also have some pretty strong principles though. The cost of those principles would be far, far higher than anyone would pay to get a puff piece written on El Reg.

Naw, this is my 'Office Communication Server is neat’ article. I mean, it really is not a bad product at all. It does cool things and serves as a sort of integration lynchpin in the Microsoft suite of applications. Sort of like Sharepoint: you can probably live without it, but once you are forced to sit down and see what the thing can do, there is rarely any going back.

That said; just you wait. Next I talk about how much of a complete bear it is to install and maintain. I was particularly unhappy that they nerfed my favourite feature in the newest version, but I am getting ahead of myself…

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OK, noted.

Trevor, OK, will wait for next instalment. Thanks for taking time to respond.

However, I am still with @Sebastian Brosig at this point - I am not yet convinced that it is worth the expense and overhead against ad-hoc others, especially for smaller teams.

Clearly the enterprise type functions, message archive retention particularly are important and missing from the free alternatives.

However, 37 Signals' Campfire product does well, and is integrated into Basecamp as a bonus. And does not require any setup, plus the conversations are filed against the project automatically.

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@Easytoby

If all you are looking for is a corporate instant messenger, office communications server is a complete waste of your time. I say this as someone only really looking for a corporate instant messenger who has the thing deployed. I am using about a tenth of a percent of the program's features in my environment. (My CTO <3s Microsoft.) If you need a corporate messenger and nothing more then get a jabber server and be done with it in 15 minutes flat. No fuss, no muss.

Now, if you need a completely integrated UNIFIED MESSENGING client, then I would put OCS up against anything out there. IBM and Cisco have competitive offerings…but OCS 2007 R2 goes toe-to-toe. What is unified messaging? Hell if I know. I am still figuring that out. So far as I can determine from the buzzword checkbox it is the ability for everyone in my entire company to attach a wire to each testicle and taser me on a whim.

This thing is stupidly powerful, and I am enough of a luddite for that to be enough reason to fear it. Assuming I weren’t using it from within a VM (which neuters about half of it’s abilities from the get-go,) then it’s kind of cool. I can have it control my IP PBX; it would do voicemail, call routing to a USB or Bluetooth headset, I could talk via phone or office communicator client to anyone in my organisation and I can set up a ridiculously complex auto-attendant feature on it. In truth, I could probably do all of that with a jabber server, Asterix and about 12 months to write a customer web interface for a series of complicated shell scripts…

…but this is push-button and frighteningly simple. (I say frighteningly simple because if my CTO ever figures out what the damned thing can actually do, I am terrified he’ll try to make me put it to use as more than an IM; a project that would be disastrous since we are 100% VDI.)

I can also right click on a contact and schedule a meeting with them, view their current busy/free status, when they will be free next (based on their calendar), send files, share my desktop (or a single application) with them, do things using SharePoint I only barely comprehend as well as customise lists, groups, teams and any other manner of personnel organisation you could conceive of all from within this one little application.

It ties into Office and into Windows. So I can be browsing a file in my documents folder, realise I need to send it to Alice, right click and send as e-mail, send to the contact, or open it up in a shared application session with Alice for mutual editing and review. Hell, it can schedule a meeting with Alice to schedule a conference call with Bob to do shared application session on the file if I only knew the right sequence of buttons to push.

Oh, and it has both Windows Mobile and Blackberry clients. The nerd in me looks at the technology involved and says “this is really, really cool.” The sysadmin in my looks at it and is TERRIFED. If middle-management types ever figured out what the thing could do…

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FAIL

Hmmmm...

Seems that OCS == Skype + money.

Now where's the gain in that? Oh yeah...I forgot. It's a Microsoft product.

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Don't forget OCS Group Chat!

Since acquiring Parlano in 2007 Microsoft have now been able to add the functionality of Mindalign to OCS and with IM, Sharepoint and Outlook/Exchange integration to boot.

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Pint

I'm a firm believer that...

...people can screw up anything. At the very least OCS 2007 R2 is hot stuff in the corporate world right now, but I've seen some really bad implementations. It really all depends on the quality of people designing, implementing and supporting the solution. Too much focus is on the technology side of the equation.

In short, with OCS if you overload the servers, try to run it over crap network, or cripple the functionality for your users with unnecessary policy restrictions you've got a bad solution - no matter how great the underlying technology is.

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It's all about the admins.

Amen to that brother.

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“It’s compliance Jim, but not as we know it”

Given that a large number of our customers have either industry or legal compliance requirements they must comply with, I think the comment in the article “…if compliance is a concern, you have IM archiving”, needs a little more qualification.

Yes, technically, you can store IMs in the OCS archive server. But, as those who write on bits of paper or print things out so they don’t forget or lose them and then can’t find the bit of paper when they actually need it can attest to, just because you’ve archived something doesn’t mean:

• you can ever find it again, even though you know it’s in that pile somewhere

• it will be complete, maybe the dog ate half of it

• that it will come back looking the same, maybe you spilled coffee on it or you printed out several pages and they’ve been mixed up so the order is wrong

• that someone else can look through the pile and find the piece of paper

• different things of different genres or sizes will fit or stay in the pile properly

There are of course other considerations too (e.g. it's rare to see one flavour of IM on a network), which I’ve expanded on in a blog post, you can read it here: http://blog.facetime.com/2010/08/its-compliance-jim-but-not-as.html (or go to the Facetime homepage and click on the blog link)...And if anyone knows how to get Star-Trekking out of my head, please drop me a line.

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