Instant messaging makes a comeback

If you left instant messaging behind with your AOL membership and Buddy list, it might be time to take another look. Instant messaging has surged into the workplace, including Iowa State. In a typical week, some 2,500 faculty and staff use Microsoft's instant messaging system, Lync, to dash off notes to colleagues or hold video calls or online meetings.

The Lync system is available to all faculty and staff, as part of last summer's switch to Microsoft Outlook's cloud-based service.

Lync has its own communications niche on campus, said Mike Lohrbach, systems and operations director in information technology services (ITS).

"It's great for quick communication," he said. "It's less formal and often faster than email."

ITS senior systems analyst Vincent Oliver said most of the instant messages on campus flow between members of the same department. However, he added that Iowa State Lync users can connect with anyone, on campus or off, who has Lync or Skype instant messaging software.

If you're interested in giving Lync a try, here are some startup tips.

Using Lync through Exchange Online

No software installation is required to use the slimmed-down version of Lync in the web-based Exchange Online, at To access Lync messaging, type your recipient's name in the "search" box and click his or her name under the "people search" section.

A Lync box will appear. Click the instant messaging box and start typing. You can also update your own status (for example, "available" or "busy") by clicking your photo icon.

How to get the software

First, check to see if you already have the Lync software installed. If you're running Office 2013 on your PC or a newer version of Office for Mac 2011, Lync is probably on your computer. Search your applications for the software, making sure you check the MS Office folders.

If your computer is on ITS CorePlus support (that is, your office pays a monthly support fee), you can get Lync by asking Solution Center staff (294-4000 or to push the software to  your computer.

If you don't have CorePlus, it's DIY time. Here's how to download and install the free software.

Mobile apps, too

Lync apps are available for Windows, Mac and Android devices. Download apps from the vendors' app stores.

Open for business

Once you sign into Lync, a small dialogue box appears on your desktop and you can begin sending or receiving messages. You also can post your status to other Lync users by typing a custom message or using preset options, like "available," "away," or "do not disturb."

Send your first message

To message ISU faculty or staff, type the individual's name or Net-ID into the search box. The search will yield the usual directory info and let you know if your intended recipient is available. A green circle or line on the recipient's picture icon means his or her Lync is ready to receive your message. Other colors indicate, for example, that the recipient may be in a meeting or out of the office. Once you've started an instant messaging conversation with one person, it's easy to bring others into the discussion. Find the newcomers through the search box and drag their picture icons to the conversation box.

Build contact lists

You can save search time by putting your most-contacted colleagues into a contacts list. To add a contact, find the person's name in the search box.

On Windows/PC

  • Point at the picture icon
  • Click the three blue dots ("more options" symbol)
  • Click "add to contacts"

On Mac

  • Highlight the individual's name
  • Click the "+" symbol
  • Add to "pinned contacts"

Audio, video conferences

Lync also can be used for audio or video chats and conferences. Check out the tutorials referenced below when you're ready to try these options. (PC users who don't have built-in audio or video devices will need additional equipment and a little setup.)

Conversation records

It's good to be aware that, transitory as your instant messages may seem, they're likely being saved on your computer or the computers of those you message with. You can control what gets saved on your end. Here's where to go:

On Windows/PC

  • From the gearshift symbol in the Lync box, pull down "tools," then "options" and "personal"

On Mac

  • From the top of your monitor, pull down under the "Lync" tab to "preferences," then "history"


Many short, easy tutorials come with your Lync program. Here's where to find them.

On Windows/PC

  • Locate the gear symbol inside the Lync box
  • Pull down "Help," then "Lync help" to find tutorials and online training video and documents

On Mac