Instant messaging makes it easy for you to have a live conversation with a friend or co-worker without the hassle of making a phone call. Because you can run your instant messaging software alongside your other productivity applications, instant messages let you handle your work and your conversations simultaneously. There is no one “best” instant messaging solution; you’ll have to figure out which one works best for your specific needs.
Microsoft’s MSN Messenger was once the go-to solution for in-office communication, but it has since been rolled up into the Skype application. Skype provides you with instant messaging but also allows you to make phone or video calls in addition to creating group chats and meetings. If you work on a big team and continually need input from several people at once, Skype might be the solution that works for you. Skype is free to download (see Resources) and can be installed on your PC as well as on your phone, television or tablet.
Google’s Hangouts instant messaging client originated as Gmail’s “Chat” option. Hangouts now include the ability to make video or voice calls, and all chat logs are automatically saved to your Gmail account. Hangouts is also integrated into Google’s Drive suite of cloud-based productivity tools, which makes it a solid alternative to Skype for teams working from several locations and sharing documents between users. Hangouts are automatically enabled with your Google account registration (see Resources) and are supported on mobile and tablet devices.
AOL Instant Messenger
AOL Instant Messenger, now known as AIM, was once the biggest IM application in the world. It’s still a powerful solution for users looking to focus exclusively on text-based chat; AOL has incrementally added features such as file and media sharing, the sending and receiving of text messages through the client, and support for video chat. AIM is a better choice for anonymous chatting; Hangouts and Skype rely on your real-life accounts and identity and are engineered for people chatting with friends or co-workers. AIM is free to download and use (see Resources) and is supported by most tablet and mobile devices.
If you work primarily from Apple products, iMessage is another available solution that comes preinstalled on your Apple device. IMessage, which supports other chat protocols like AIM and Hangouts, syncs all of your communications between your various Apple devices. When using iMessage, for example, you can start a conversation on your laptop, continue it on your iPad, and finish it on your iPhone. Messages are tied to your Apple ID and will sync to any device with iMessage enabled. Because iMessage is an Apple exclusive, it’s not an ideal solution for teams working on mixed hardware.