Usually I try to focus on a single topic in this commentary, but this week I have several Microsoft-related items to talk about. The first is Microsoft's first Internet Explorer (IE) Toolbar release, the MSN Toolbar.

Many of you have probably experienced browser hijacks and unwanted toolbar installations that were instigated by Internet malicious software (malware) programs. In my column "Windows Disk-Management Tools and the Google Toolbar" (Windows Client Perspectives, October 2003, InstantDoc ID 40560), I pointed out that the Google toolbar was a fairly effective pop-up blocker and a sensible choice for many users. Recently, Microsoft jumped on the toolbar and pop-up blocker bandwagon with its own entry, the MSN Toolbar.

Frankly, if you're an MSN user, the MSN Toolbar isn't a bad idea. It's unobtrusive, provides one-click access to MSN, My MSN, MSN Messenger, and Hotmail; and offers effective pop-up blocking. The MSN Toolbar is easy to configure and a small (603KB) download. If you're looking for a pop-up blocking tool, this free download is worth a look. And, if you're an active user of MSN resources, the MSN Toolbar gives you an easy way to access those resources. You can download the MSN Toolbar at http://toolbar.msn.com.

IM for Work...
I've written several columns about Instant Messaging (IM), addressing topics such as how to handle the problems IM can cause for a company and how to install tools that make using IM easier and safer. I'm well aware of the mixed feeling that IM arouses in corporate IT managers and understand IM's benefits and risks.

In a press release dated July 15, Microsoft announced that its next-generation IM server, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005, which will be available in fourth quarter 2004, will support interoperability with AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger. By providing this interoperability, Microsoft hopes to facilitate implementation of IM-enabled applications and provide broader acceptance of IM technologies in the workplace. The press release, which you can read at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2004/jul04/07-15enterpriseimconnectivitypr.asp, explains the position of Microsoft and other key IM vendors on IM interoperability and why it's an important adjunct to business communications. I agree with most of the release's IM assessment; my initial experience with IM was as a business-communications tool, and I've found it moderately useful over the years. I can easily see how business productivity can be improved with a good IM infrastructure and IM application integration.

... and Play
What really caught my attention, though, wasn't merely the press release but its juxtaposition with a release from a week earlier--"Flirting's Moved Online! New Research From MSN Reveals Millions Swap IM Addresses With Potential Dates"--at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2004/jul04/07-08flirtingpr.asp. This earlier release, dated July 8, highlights one of the most serious concerns of IT managers when they consider allowing IM into their enterprise. The notion that nearly 40 percent of IM users admit to using it to flirt online is an idea that's guaranteed to send shivers through the heart of any IT professional.

IM might be the next wave in corporate communications. Just make sure that you're knowledgeable about products that let you monitor and control IM usage to keep your company safe.