Stay in touch by using Office Communicator

By Jim Boyce

What is Office Communicator?

You're probably familiar with online chat. In its simplest form, it means sending text messages back and forth with another person across a local network or the Internet. The chat concept has grown to cover a range of capabilities that falls under the umbrella of instant messaging. These capabilities are as diverse as text chat and video conferencing. Now Microsoft has added file sharing, application sharing, and IP telephony (Voice over IP, or VoIP).

Microsoft Office Communicator

Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 brings all of these features into one program and adds the additional capability of showing presence information. For example, when you open a document in Microsoft Office Word 2003 that is stored in a Document Workspace, which is a type of Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services site, you can see at a glance which other members of the team are online and available to chat about the document (their names are listed in the Shared Workspace task pane).

Document with presence information about team members visible in task pane

Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 provides another good example of presence information. Outlook can display the online status of a message sender in the message form.

Outlook message with presence information showing about the sender

When you receive an e-mail message, you can see at a glance whether the person is online, and you can start a chat session with him or her about the message.

Many chat programs work only for people who use the same program, but Communicator works for people who use:

  • Windows Messenger
  • MSN Messenger
  • AOL and Yahoo! networks
  • Office Communicator

Besides chat, the following are other things that you can do with Communicator:

  • Share your Windows desktop and programs for demos, training, or troubleshooting.
  • Take part in a video conference right from your desktop if a camera is connected to your computer.
  • Place phone calls across the network or Internet by using a phone if a VoIP telephone adapter is connected to your computer or network or if a VoIP-capable PBX is installed in your office.
  • Call another person's computer directly (even if you don't have a VoIP adapter) if a headset or a microphone and speakers are connected to your computer.
  • Take part in online meetings hosted through the Microsoft Office Live Meeting service.

Collaborating by using Communicator

Communicator certainly makes it easy to see when others are online, but more importantly, it enables you to more easily collaborate with others. Take a look at some examples.

Sharing programs

One way that you can collaborate with others by using Communicator is to share a program. For example, perhaps you need to show a coworker how to accomplish a particular task by using Microsoft Office Excel. Or perhaps you want to work with your coworker to create and modify a Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentation. Whatever the case, you can share those programs by using Communicator.

ShowHow to share programs

  1. In Communicator, on the Actions menu, point to More, and then click Start Sharing.
  2. Click a participant's name, and then click OK.
  3. After the other participant accepts the sharing invitation, in the Sharing Controls area, click Application Sharing.
  4. Click a specific item in the Share Programs list, or click Desktop if you want to share the Windows desktop. Click Share.

Share Programs list with selection highlighted

  1. By default, the item or the Windows desktop appears on the other person's desktop, but the other participant can't interact with it. To enable the other person to interact with the item or desktop, click Allow Control.
  2. When you're finished with the shared task, click Unshare, and then click Close.
  3. When you're finished collaborating with the other person, end the session by closing the Conversation dialog box. Sharing programs isn't a one-way street. Both participants can share items with each other.

Using the Whiteboard

Sometimes it's useful to share a common space for drawing and writing notes. For example, two people working on an ad campaign might need to brainstorm on a print ad. The Whiteboard in Communicator gives you shared drawing capability.

The Whiteboard is a lot like the Paint program included with Microsoft Windows.

The Whiteboard

You can draw, add and highlight text, zoom in and out, add additional pages, and more. The main difference between the Whiteboard and Paint is that another person can work with the Whiteboard as well.

You start a Whiteboard session in almost the same way as you would start a program-sharing session. But, rather than clicking Application Sharing in the Conversation window, click Whiteboard. The Whiteboard then appears on the other person's desktop.

Staying in touch more effectively

Today, it's often vitally important to keep in touch with coworkers, customers, and others. Staying in touch more effectively can make you and the people you work with more productive and can simplify your job. Take a look at three ways that Communicator can help you stay in touch.

ShowUsing chat

Unlike spam, e-mail is a nonintrusive way to communicate. A message usually reaches its destination quickly, and the recipient can read it when he or she has time to do so. Sometimes, however, you need a quicker, more interactive way to communicate. Both a phone call and a chat session can serve that need, but a phone call is often more intrusive than a chat session. You generally stop working when you pick up the phone, but you can often continue working on other tasks while you participate in a chat session.

There's nothing magic about online chat. You start a session, and the messages you type are sent to the other participants. Their typed responses appear in your chat window.

It's easy to start a chat session with others by using Communicator:

  1. In Communicator, double-click a contact to open a Conversation window.
  2. If you want to add other participants to the session, click the Invite someone to join this conversation button, click a contact, and then click OK.
  3. Start typing your first message, and press ENTER when you're ready to send it.

While you are participating in a chat session, you can easily send an e-mail message to, place a call to, or perform other tasks with a participant. In the Conversation window, click a participant's name to display a menu of available actions, and then click the action (such as Send a File) that you want to perform.

ShowPlacing calls

You can use Communicator to carry on a voice conversation with another person, either directly between computers or using a VoIP phone system. In the former case, you must have either a headset or a microphone and speakers connected to your computer (a headset works best). In the latter case, you must have a VoIP analog telephone adapter (ATA) connected to your network and a phone connected to the ATA, or you must have a phone system with a PBX (central switch) that supports VoIP. You can also have Communicator dial your phone by using an attached modem.

Communicator pulls phone information from different places depending on how you use it and what information is available for each contact. For example, you can manually enter up to four phone numbers in your personal information, and Communicator will display those numbers to others who add you as a contact.

Because Communicator puts this information right at your fingertips, it's easy to initiate a call:

  • In Communicator, click the contact you want to call.
  • Near the bottom of the Communicator window, click the arrow next to the Call button.
  • Do one of the following:
  • ClickComputer to place a computer-to-computer call
  • Click a phone number from the list to place VoIP phone call

ShowSending e-mail

You surely don't have any problems sending an e-mail message, but Communicator makes it even easier to make quick e-mail connections with your contacts. You don't have to start Outlook or search for the address. Instead, in Communicator, right-click the contact and click Send E-mail. Communicator starts your default e-mail editor with a new message addressed to the contact.

Moving beyond the basics

All of the features explored in this article will help you stay in touch more effectively and give you more ways to collaborate with colleagues, coworkers, and customers. But Communicator's features don't end there. For example, you can:

  • Use video conferencing to meet with coworkers or customers.
  • Receive out-of-office messages through integration with Outlook and Microsoft Exchange Server.
  • Place conference calls.
  • Escalate an instant messaging session to Microsoft Office Live Meeting.
  • Forward your phone calls based on presence information, and more.

By using Office Communicator, you can collaborate at work more easily and more powerfully.

About the author     Jim Boyce has written more than 50 books about computers and technology, many of them about the Microsoft Office System. He regularly contributes to several online sites and publications. His latest book is Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Inside Out, which is available from Microsoft Learning.

Applies to:
Outlook 2003, Windows Sharepoint Services 2.0, Word 2003