Go Go Odigo!

Version: Odigo Version 3.1 (build 575)
Company: Odigo Inc. (www.odigo.com)
Date added to Download.com: July 11, 2001
File size: 3.84mb. for the full version (odigo31b_575eng.exe), Or 59k for the “Smart Download”, which will allow you to choose the options you like before you download it such as Support for Connectivity to Neoplanet, Instant Gifts plug-in, or Connectivity to Microsoft’s MSN Messenger.
License: Free
Minimum requirements: Windows (Win9x, ME, NT, 2k), Internet Explorer 4.x, Netscape 4.x, or NeoPlanet 2.x/5.x
Other versions: Odigo Express, a Webbased Java Client; Odigo Mobile, a Wireless Client; Odigo Messenger Force – a Pocket PC Client.
System Requirements: Pentium 100 or higher, Minimum of 16 MB RAM, Windows 95/98/2000 professional, ME, NT4.0 Workstation or Server.
Related Links: www.Odigo.org; www.download.com
Many of Odigo’s features work only when your browser is open. The browsers Odigo currently supports are: Internet Explorer 4+, Netscape 4.x, Neoplanet 2 and 5 (through plug-in)

Go Odigo

Before anything else, Odigo.com explains that “Odigo” is an ancient Greek word meaning “guide”. That must answer the first question that probably pops in your mind when you first hear of this relatively new Instant Messenger – which is “Why such a weird name?”.

Eventually though, after using it for an extended period of time it didn’t matter to me anymore what it actually meant. By then I had made up my own interpretation. After a week or so Odigo had become to me three things: A viable alternative for the three major Instant Messengers cluttering my already filled PC and desktop; A solid small and fast-loading application with few quirks; And finally a well-executed marketing plan that manages to instantly gain wide acceptance among die-hard IM users while providing totally new features as well as a whole new platform for their Instant Messaging.

Let’s talk about Odigo 1.3. The 5th installment in our Instant Messenger series up for a thorough review after ICQ, Yahoo IM, AIM and MS’s MSN.

Features

Instant Messaging

You can load feature on top of high-tech feature onto an Instant Messenger, but of all features an IM has to serve one purpose and do it without fail, and that is to send Instant Messages. Odigo of course makes this just as easy as any other IM, so there aren’t any surprises here. Sending messages to and from other Odigo users or those you imported from other IMs is a breeze, as it should be.

Odigo calls their messaging window the “Communication Center”, and it features a “URL” tab that seems to be a special built-in message window just to send URLs to friends with an attached comment or two. Frankly, I can’t see the reason for this because if I wanted to send a URL with an attached message (for example: http://www.pcworld.com.ph; hey man check this out!!), I can use the ordinary messaging window for that.

It also has a Chat Request Tab, a File tab for sending files and an Add Friend Tab. Of these, I’d have to say that the same goes for the “Add Friend” tab. There is no discernible need to use a different window just for this, as it basically has the same features as the typical “Message” window. The Chat Request tab at least has controls that let you to make your own Chat Room and send Multi User or 1:1 Chats, while the File tab allows you to scour your PC for files to send.

The Communication Center has a capable History button that auto-archives all conversations to and from a Friend. It is accessible even offline, although I wonder if it would be more user-friendly with some form of “search” field. You can also delete conversations if you like, which is good for privacy concerns and might also help in case the archive file would get too big one day from too many messages. Finally, if you want to turn in off, going to the Preferences / Messages area and placing a zero setting on “Maximum number of past messages to be saved for each friend” as well as “all other users” seems to be the only way.

Standard formatting tools are present such as bold, italic, system only fonts and colors, however there are no simple emoticons which help make chatting more pleasant and is almost a standard with most IMs. Instead you’re asked to download “Odigofeelingz.exe”, a 140kb download add-on that allows you to send Animated Emotions to chatmates.

This is pretty good once you get it running as these are multimedia which includes sound, and are animated. In theory that’s all good, unfortunately you will need at the very least a decent internet connection to make full use of this, otherwise the long wait for it to load will make you loose the spontaneity that makes sending emoticons succssful to begin with.

Also, I only have two characters to choose from initially, featuring a cow type of character named Milton, and a girl named Kiki. I’m limited to either Laugh, Cry, Kiss, Wow, Wink, Hello and Knock knock, say Good Morning and such. It would be nice to be allowed to add a personal note. Finally, unless I’m doing something wrong there seems to be no way to preview an animated emotion before sending it, which makes sending one kind of iffy. So unless you get some practice time first, hoping you will achieve the desired effect will require some crossing of fingers.

If users are configured to have wireless devices and allow other users to send messages directly to those devices, you can click the “Wireless Messaging” button and send them a message. More on this later.

Friends List

The rightmost tab on Odigo features it’s Friends List, another IM standard requirement. Here one gets to categorize one’s friends as “New”, “Business”, “Family” and “Others”. It is fully configurable to allow more categories or edit an existing one, which is what I did when I migrated my existing ICQ and Yahoo contacts to it (more on migrating other IMs on “Interoperability”).

No surprises here as well. Right clicking a Friend’s name will allow you to see his/her Details, Send a Message, Show History and to Move / Rename / Remove him. Another option is “Hide” which will place that Friend in a more private location. Extending the “Other options” will allow you to engage the user in Multi-User Chat, 1:1 Chat (just the two of you), Voice Chat (using a mike and speakers), Send a URL, Send a File, and use Wireless Messaging.

Friend Details are pretty complete, with such standards as Age, Gender, Status, Occupation and Zodiac, but there is also Intention and Mood which help as conversation-starters (if that is your intention). You can choose from 9 Moods and 7 different type of Intentions, which would probably cover most of them, however unfortunately you cannot add one of your own. I think Odigo is missing an opportunity for users to personalize themselves on the ‘net further and show more of themselves here. People can think of the weirdest or funniest things to describe themselves when allowed to do so. The ubiquitous “Other” button with a short text field would make this more interesting.

Also useful is an optional Home Page, Photo Album and an Interest text box, but the best part of the Details Card has to be the ability to choose a nice graphic to represent you among an interesting myriad of choices – and there are a lot. Over at http://odigo.org, you can look for pics of animals, plants, anime, people at work and all sorts of different images ranging from the sublime, sexy and yes, stupid – all of which you can choose to represent your personality. You cannot upload your own picture, but in case you want to you can instead upload it elsewhere and enter the URL to your details for others to stare longingly at.

Remember though, these Details are given but only if your Friend is an Odigo user as well. If you imported a Friend from another IM, it unfortunately will include only that person’s contact and not his Personal Details. Sending messages to non-Odigo users is also limited to only standard messages and URLs. I suppose this is the part where you try to convince friends to move to Odigo, citing it’s ability to import other IM’s contact lists thereby updating yours but also helping Odigo increase its membership as well..

Interoperability

Interoperability is Odigo’s main reason for living and is probably the focal point in it’s plan of attack on the highly competitive IM field. In a nutshell, interoperability is Odigo’s ability to “migrate” the contact lists of popular IMs MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, AOL (even “others”) and interact with them as if you were still using the same.

With this ability, Odigo instantly becomes a contender by tapping into millions of existing users of other IM applications. In the process, us lucky users are also given the chance to finally end the clutter and hassle of having up to 4 or more IMs residing in our PC, sharing valuable resources and ever-decreasing monitor space. As I mentioned before however, you will not be able to completely migrate all your users details onto Odigo other than their names and identification nos. (not even email addresses), and so you may want to ask them to come over to Odigo as well – something I’m sure Odigo is banking on you to do.

A base installation of Odigo 3.1 will need the respective add-on per IM; which means one for Yahoo (160kb) and another for MSN (168kb.). ICQ and AOL interoperability is built-in. All of these files are manageable in size, and installation was a breeze without even requiring a reboot of the system.

Once up and running, it’s merely a matter of rearranging names in the Friends List and voila – one IM as a replacement for four. In principle, that’s what’s supposed to happen, although it wasn’t as smooth in my case plus there was a surprise or two. Here are some observations:

Judging from the user’s opinions in various websites, I braced for problems either with ICQ or AOL, but for me, MSN’s Messenger was the one that didn’t want to “interoperate” no matter what I did, which included rebooting and reinstalling several times. Fortunately I don’t use MSN that much anyway, but still I seem to be the only one who has this problem.

Odigo’s Friend List seems to have a large capacity, as it inadvertantly shed light on a Yahoo IM limitation / bug that limited the number of online friends I can see to only 16 or so when using Yahoo IM. Odigo allows me to see all 23 of my contacts all fully accounted for. Finally I won’t be so surprised whenever someone sends me a message but I can’t see him online, or I add a new contacts and never see them there.

Interoperability has a privacy price. Aside from not having your friend’s Personal Details placed at the old IM ready at hand, you will also lose some of your settings. If you had configured to “block” or remain in “hiding” from someone before, once you move to Odigo he isn’t blocked and you aren’t hiding anymore. More about this in the next topic – Privacy.

Odigo eases the strain of migrating from one IM to another somewhat, especially in cases wherein one may miss Yahoo IM, AIM or MSN’s ability to check for their email periodically and announce when new mail comes in from whom. One of the advantages of using MSN, for example is that it sends an alert to you if you receive mail in your Hotmail or other inbox. Odigo claims to have the abiltiy to set POP3 Email Notification Settings even on Hotmail, Yahoo or AIM, and you can set it to check other mail as well. This is a very good feature and must be one of my favorite as it does its job well without trying to be what it’s not – a full featured email client. It just quietly alerts you via a tiny icon in the system tray that you received email – there is not even a audio alert to distract you from what you’re doing. Clicking it, you will be able to see From and Subject with details that include Date / Time and To. Downloading or deleting it is still the job of your email client.

Privacy

All IMs require password and username protection before logging in and to help differentiate amongst multiple users. Odigo is no different. I had initially opted not to save my password when I first installed it, but when I started to use it more often I wanted it to automatically boot up. It turns out that the only way for it not to bug me about my password anymore was to go through the “choose a password” process again. This is the only place where the radio button asking me if I wanted to save my password resides. It seems like a roundabout way of making Odigo not ask for my password anymore, but apparently it’s the only way to avoid logging in all the time. This could have been avoided by just placing a nice checkbox in the Preferences settings saying “Ask for password on startup?” yes/no.

The Details Card where one enters personal details doesn’t require email addresses, so you can avoid giving this until you want to. There is also a checkbox where you can opt not to display your IP address and Odigo ID number, which I recommend you do.

Finally you can block certain people from sending you messages, either by clicking “Ignore User” when a message is sent to you, or by entering their Odigo ID no. via the “Tools” menu. However “Hiding” or the ability to keep yourself from appearing when online on someone else’s IM is not an option, and this is an important issue especially for those who have had been unfortunate enough to know people they want to avoid. If you migrate from an IM with contacts you’ve already placed on your “Invisible” list, you will quickly be visible to them once more, and you will not have the ability to make yourself invisible to them again. I believe this feature, or in this case, the lack of it, is serious enough for one to think twice before jumping headfirst into a migration to Odigo.

Website

All IMs need a good website to back it up, and Odigo provides the simplest albeit most functional of them all. But that is understandable. Odigo is not like ICQ, AIM, Yahoo and MSN in the sense that they are not an enormous multimedia conglomerates with a powerhouse of a website providing the latest in entertainment, news, sports and business content.

Odigo is more of the upstart IM company with a good marketing idea and an obviously capable software development team to back it up. Therefore, it lacks the compelling content of Yahoo.com and it’s various services, the variety of MSN with it’s universal Passport capability and .Net strategy, and finally the even more wide array of entertainment content that only AOL TIme-Warner, which powers ICQ / AIM, can provide.

Odigo.com, once you get there, looks more like a typical Company website with the standard Products / Services buttons at the side, a few noteworthy (to them) Press Releases, and if you search hard enough, you may even find a Job Opening or two.

That’s all well and good. But if you want to read stuff about your Odigo, you will be asked to click links to Odigo.org, which is the “Community” side of the IM. Here you will see the all important Download Odigo and Download Add-In links. After getting these, you may want to check out Faces Gallery, where you can look for the proper face to represent you on your Detail Card. You can actually upload your own set of Gallery faces, there are guidelines on how to do so.

Finally you have your FAQs, Online Help, Support and News sections, all with links from the IM itself which will open up your browser to it. It’s not without some quirks though, the Help portion feature a “Send Feedback” button, which simply instructs your email software to prepare a message addressed to feedback@odigo.com. A “Suggest A URL” option which brings you to a page with an apology, saying that the Add A URL feature will be Coming Soon.

Content Channels

The Content Channels is the 4th tab bar with small banner-like images. When clicked, a “wing” pops out from Odigo’s left side and you’ve got the latest content from Odigo News, Odigo Travel, Accuweather, Babylon, Dating, Enquirer news, Jive Player, ESPN Sports and Search with Mamma.

Most are self-explanatory, probably except for Babylon, which is actually a language translator. Guess what: as in most language translators I’ve downloaded, there’s no Tagalog, so this remained untested. Dating brings up links to AmericanSingles.com, with a few links to get you going right away. Jive Player features music and entertainment (aka Hollywood) news, this also happens to be the place I spent most time with. Enquirer news provides gossip and movie news.

There is a Search Engine called Mamma.com, and finally, ESPN Sports. This one would be my most favorite of all, and when I clicked it I was quite excited and surprised to see my favorite Philadelphia 76ers doing well in the NBA playoffs 2nd round against Milwaukee, until I rememberd that the Bucks never even made past the 1st round this year. A quick check at the date revealed that this window was exactly 12 months and three days old – Odigo has to find a way to update this sometime soon.

Find Like-minded People

At this point, Odigo becomes seriously cool. There are two very innovative ways of finding people on Odigo. One is the 2nd tab called “People In Page / Site” and “People Finder”.

– “People In Page / Site” shows a “radar screen” where you supposedly look for and find people that are surfing the same website as you are at that very moment. A “Page” is the exact same page you are looking at, while a “Site” is the website as a whole. On a popular page such as Yahoo.com, for example, you will see a ceratin number of people on the page, another number on the site, and a few more “Invisible” ones. Sending a message or finding out details about that person is as quick and easy as right-clicking the name. You can refine your search using the “People With Me On Filter” to specific details such as Age Group, Gender, Region, Language, Occupation, Status, Mood, Intention, Zodiac and so on.

You can also activate “Homepager”, which will allow you to keep tabs on a particular website. Once activated, a small window will pop up and this will tell you how many People (visible / Invisible) and Notes are put on your homepage.

“Notes” allows you to leave personalized messages on a website for others to see. Another user who goes to the site can then read that note, and send you a reply message re it. Also, once you find a page with many Odigo users on it, you can initiate or join a Chatroom almost instantly on that page or site. A small chat window will appear, and other Odigo users can join in and come and go as they please.

– “People Finder” is somewhat similar but this time does not involve a website. Here you will need to rely on setting more specific searches using the “People Finder Filter” and determine what exactly is the kind of person you want to talk to based on the specific topic you want to talk about. The settings can get very specific and be several levels deep. You can go Arts & Humanities / Arts / Visual Arts / Digital / Online Experiences for example.

These two features are easily the 2nd best reason why you may want to use or shift to Odigo. However, some notes:

Of course, for both of these high-tech ways to get to meet new people systems to work, they will have to be using Odigo as well, so the success of both these interesting features has a direct relation to how popular Odigo is.

I can see Invisible People. I never understood the concept of “Invisible”, even after reading about it. The FAQ says “A user who chooses to be “Invisible in Radar” will not be seen in the radar by other Odigo users. However, the user will still be visible to their friends, and still be able to see other users in the radar screen and communicate with them.” Despite this, I see a lot of people in “Invisible” mode in different websites all the time, and I know they aren’t friends. Either these people aren’t doing something right or I found a bug, but something is amiss.

Some final notes about Odigo:

You can customize your Odigo by using Skins, but that’s pretty much it. Unlike ICQ and the rest, there’s no way to make your own Skins, so if you don’t like the choices at odigo.org, you’re stuck. Finally, although Odigo has interesting “audio alerts” that indicate when it’s searching for someone on your radar or you receive an instant message, you can only disable these, but not change them to something you might find more appropriate. This pretty much sums up Odigo’s lack of “personalization”, something I would miss from using MSN and Yahoo – where you can set “Away” messages or change your nick on a daily basis to reflect your mood.

When clicking links, Odigo uses the current browser window instead of opening a new one. This can be quite infuriating at times especially when you’re not yet finished browsing that page. This is a simple yet irritating issue which I hope they will address in the next version.

Odigo’s interface is set to Always on Top, and also cannot be resized. This means a 15″ or smaller screen with a 800×600 or worse, 640×480 resolution screen will have Odigo taking up to 30% of their screen almost all the time. Worse, there are no keyboard shortcuts to minimize it out of the way when not needed. To its credit, when minimized it just sits there quietly in the system tray, which is how I like my IMs – quiet and non-intrusive.

There are no Mac or Unix versions. Relatively a minor issue, but still curious given that the Linux market is booming and that most Linux geeks / enthusiasts tend to lap up almost anything out there that’s built to run on their system. In fact, a Linux version would be interesting as it would allow MSN access for Linux users – something that Microsoft is unlikely to make a version for. There is however a Java Webbased “Express” version – useful for using Odigo away from your PC or possibly on different OSes.

Conclusion

To sum it up, Odigo just takes off on the fact that it is independent and therefore can “steal” contacts from big guys MSN, Yahoo IM, AIM and ICQ. On the other hand, the others cannot do the same without sacrificing identity or causing some legal trouble, which seems to be the case everytime someone tries to do something in the IM world.

Add it’s ability to check out people surfing the same websites and look for like-minded people, and you have a very capable IM worthy of attention or at the very least contemplating as a replacement of whatever you’re using now.

My favorite characteristic however is that it is a solid application that never crashed, is always predictable, takes up only 3mb. of RAM and loads much faster than any of the other IMs, bar none. It is also mostly quiet, and does it’s job without fuss or attention. There is no giant splash screen when it starts, no unwelcome announcements from content providers (although the settings allow it to, I have yet to receive any), and finally no annoying message I have to click OK to when I log out. Well yes, there are message boxes telling me to retry if I log out of Yahoo and ICQ, but that’s forgivable.

However, I don’t think it’s for everybody.

If you are a die-hard IM user dedicated and loyal to just one IM, stick to that one. Odigo’s unique “People Finder” system might sound compelling, but given that Odigo is not that popular compared to others, if you’re looking for chatmates you’re better off with the more popular IMs.

If you are a newbie, it’s an even 50-50. Odigo is user-friendly and reliable, but the other IMs are just plain well-established and, depending on your tastes, it may be hard to resist the rich content they offer. On the bright side, connecting to friends regardless of what IM they’re using is not an issue.

Odigo is best suited for the fed-up, harrassed IM user with several IMs and needs to communicate with several friends using different IMs. If you fall into that category, Odigo is a “must-try” at the very least.

Gary Mercado
gary@exchange.ph
Next month: Trillian