A couple months ago I blogged on how to IM people on other networks from within OCS – MSN/Windows Live, AIM and Yahoo. But two other IM services were left off the list: Cisco”s Jabber and Google Talk/Gmail.

At the time, OCS users couldn”t Instant Message Gmail users. Now they can.

Wait, users chatting with people on MORE Instant Messaging networks?! The horror! They won”t get anything done! The office will spend all day sending bad jokes and silly cat pictures to themselves!

Guess what? Microsoft just made it worse (better really, but doom-and-gloom attracts readers). And they did it for free!

Microsoft has released a new XMPP Gateway for Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2. Download the Gateway here. Yes, it”s a free download.

The OCS Team Blog has razor-sharp instructions on how to setup the new XMPP Gateway here:
Configuring XMPP Connectivity to Gmail
It requires a properly configured OCS 2007 R2 system, an Edge Server, and a server running Windows Server 2008 to host the gateway.

What does this gateway do?

The XMPP Gateway allows interoperability between your OCS 2007 R2 system, and user accounts on Gmail & Cisco”s Jabber. In other words, you can add Gmail & Jabber users like you would any OCS contact in Office Communicator. See their current status with Presence, and send Instant Messages if they”re available.

(This also means Office Communicator”s logging capability will record your conversations. Which most IM networks don”t do unless you specify. More on why this is handy later.)

Why install this at all? Won”t it just distract employees even more?

Nope. In fact, I can think of two big reasons why being able to chat with Gmail & Jabber users is good. Before I list them though,I should clarify something about Gmail.

Recently Google added the ability to chat into Gmail”s interface. (There”s a FAQ page for it here.) This means everyone who has a Gmail account can IM other Gmail users right from Firefox/Internet Explorer.

Why is this important? Because the first advantage of installing the XMPP Gateway is…

1. It lets you chat with clients & partners who don”t have OCS 2007.
Not everyone uses OCS (yet),so it”s no guarantee that a client or partner will have it. However, it”s a pretty safe bet they have Gmail accounts. Which means using this gateway, you can chat with them. Even hold conferences online.

That”s a huge advantage right there. Some firms only deal with clients through phone and email, usually if they”re overseas or far enough away that time zones factor in. This gateway provides a no-cost way to add IM to that mix.

2. It makes adding OCS more attractive.
If you”re waffling over buying OCS, the ability to IM people on several networks does have some value incentive. Adding chat with Gmail, AIM and MSN/Windows Live increases OCS” usability, like I described above. It also means users will take to it more easily, if they know they can add in colleagues. Or clients. Or even (gasp!) friends.

A final note: Microsoft also dropped PIC license requirements for Windows Live and AIM. You can federate with AIM automatically, if you have a standard CAL for OCS 2007.

Having more Instant Messaging options CAN cause distraction instead of productivity. The whole ”time to panic” thing isn”t completely ridiculous. I addressed this back in May with my “Is There a Reason to Use Instant Messaging in Business?” post.

However, IM is another communication tool. Try the XMPP Gateway out if you already use IM. Or if it”d help with client communications. Chances are, being able to chat with people on the largest webmail provider in the world might just help you out.

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