Basic Web-based chat server and client

Basic Web-based chat server and client

June 5, 2002

If "talk is cheap," does that mean typed talk is cheaper? Perhaps. It certainly is inexpensive on a free chat system like Alcomp, Inc.'s Pino Server. Working with Pino Server and its client program, Pino Chat, requires very little -- an Internet or intranet server and some time to configure and administer the program. The Pino environment may at first seem a little crude and overly technical, but it is really very easy to operate. The question to ask though is why have your own chat? With all of the chat options available, including the famous (or infamous) AOL and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) variants, what's to be gained with downloading Pino and setting up your own chat server?

With Pino Server and Chat, Alcomp certainly does not provide motivation or direction for any particular use of chat services. Perhaps this is a weakness of the product -- it's simply tossed out into the Internet, free and unencumbered with the targeting of any particular user. Nothing in the presentation or packaging of Pino is there to compel a business or organization (or individual for that matter) to "use this product because it will do this and that for you."

Still, a working Internet server is required for Pino's installation. Presumably, an enterprise would want people to use it. If they do, it will tie up bandwidth. It also requires regular maintenance. No chat service is free for the operator. So what's the business purpose of a private chat system? Or is this designed to be something of a hobby, an interesting and possibly fun thing to do?

Part of the answer is in the details of setting up and using Pino. If Pino is secure, easy to use and easy to operate, it might be ideal for a private chat system among corporate salespeople or for members of a club. PINO at least partially fulfills these requirements.

Pino relies on login, activity logs, and monitoring by ChatOPS and RoomOPS (the administrator equivalents at the system and local levels) to guard its services from illegitimate access and improper use. People can be banned from the service (temporarily or permanently) based on their IP address. Much of the security requires human participation -- not necessarily a weakness. Pino's security is basic but adequate.

Pino Server can be installed in minutes. Customization of both server and client is limited (and no source code provided), which may limit the situations where they can be made to fit. This is also not a server oriented toward high-volume and scalability; for example, it lacks connection pooling.

For the user, Pino is a relatively basic chat -- obviously typing is the name of the game, so users have to be able to type (hunt-and-peck is less than marginal). Pino does have autocomplete; it will remember phrases and type them out automatically after the first few letters. The user interface is low-level graphical, although there are still legacy pieces of command-line operation. Most users should have no difficulty learning the Pino feature set within a couple of hours.

Because Pino Server and Chat are free and competent programs they could form the basis of a private chat service with many potential uses. What's important is the will to make chat a justifiable and useful tool -- in short to motivate people to use Pino. In this regard, Alcomp does not have the clout and prestige of other chat systems, and it may not provide enough customization in its product. But Pino is certainly a simple way to start a private chat system.

Pros: 7 Free, 7 good basic features
Cons: 7 Limited documentation and customization capabilities