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We have a small school with classrooms across a few buildings. There are currently no phones going into each room but each teacher does have a school laptop and Internet. We need a way to instantly communicate with teachers from the office or vice versa. We're looking for a free solution as we have no money and very little to work with. I have access to a Windows 2003 server. I've looked into Openfire and Spark but need something a bit more simple and more control over clients.

Here are some requirements:

  • Need a way for people in the office to open up a 2 way line of communication with a teacher in a classroom and vice versa.

  • When a teacher receives a message there should be a constant sound (VOIP?) and visual flashing of some sort until the teacher directly interacts with it.

  • Would like to be able to centrally manage clients.

  • No video, file transfer, adding other users besides teachers and staff, or anything else common to typical IM that goes beyond messaging.

  • Would like this to be strictly used for staff and teacher communication so people don't have to walk to and from rooms each time.

I'm also open to other solutions that don't directly involve IM. I have thought about VOIP like skype but I can't centrally manage skype to restrict it to only calls within the school or control which users show up on contact list.

Here's a paid product that comes somewhat close to what we need:

This seems like there should be a simple and free solution but I'm having trouble figuring it out!

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You could look at setting up a jabber server and installing a jabber client on each users machine. Logins can be tied to AD or to another LDAP system or a database. As it's open source if the config file doesn't let you disable the features you want disabled just disable or remove that block of code from the source.

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I've looked into openfire/spark as I've stated and it does support AD integration. However, it does not solve the problem of getting the teacher's attention when he or she is not at the laptop except for a single sound going off when receiving an IM. I also don't want a long 5+ sec sound every time an IM is received if the teacher is already at the laptop. I would also like to avoid editing source code if possible. – techguy Oct 20 '09 at 7:09
having the client make noise is going to be a client config setting, not a server setting as clients can control there own settings for stuff like that. Not to mention the person could have the laptop muted so that the lesson isn't interrupted because someone in the front office has a question (which would probably end up happening a lot, the muting not the random questions). There are tons of open source clients out there that can talk to just about every server around. For this specific a set of features you'll probably have to hack at least a little code. – mrdenny Oct 20 '09 at 7:51
Many voice chat programs have the option to "automatically accept chats from persons in my friends list". If the client has this option configured the chat functions line an intercom. – Chris Nava Oct 20 '09 at 15:08

Since this is a small school I doubt you want to run your own jabber server. You may want to consider looking at Google Apps for Education which is free.

Google talk will support pretty much any XMPP(jabber) client. You just need to find a client that supports your requirements.

if you don't have a computer actually dedicated to be the teacher's desktop, this may not work too well.

I think the requirement that you have a constant audible warning if there is a open message is not a good idea. You wouldn't get that behavior for a telephone, or anything else. Presumably if something really important needed to be communicated, and the recipient hadn't acknowledged receipt, then the sender would simply send a second message causing the alert to be played another time.

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We're already on Google Apps and have considered Gtalk but it doesn't fit what we need. When a student needs to be called up to the office or there's an emergency and a teacher is not at the desk then we need a constant audible sound like a phone ringing to alert the teacher when he or she is elsewhere in the classroom. The constant audible warning should of course have the ability to be canceled from the sender's end like a caller hanging up or after a fixed time. The problem with most IM clients is they're far too fancy for what we need otherwise I would go with Openfire/Spark. – techguy Oct 20 '09 at 7:05
The audible alert on most chat clients is configurable. You may not be able to set it to repeat but you can substitute a longer audio file. Not sure how any given client reacts when the call is answered while the audio is still playing so YMMV. – Chris Nava Oct 20 '09 at 15:13

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