Terrific Trillian

Terrific Trillian

Publisher: Cerulean Studios
Date released: February, 2002
Date released: June 7, 2002
File size: 2.343MB
License: Free
Minimum requirements: Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000/XP
Version: 0.725
Sites: http://www.ceruleanstudios.com; http://www.trillian.cc

General Features:
XML-based skinned interface
User Profiles
Container Windows
Proxy support / proxy authentication
Emoticons
Transparent windows
Window “phasing” (hide buddyicons and toolbars)
Resizable frames in each window (typing area, etc)
Emotisounds
No Built-in ads
Text formatting (font colors, sizes, and styles)
Event system (sound, hotkeys, and user definable popup windows)
Customizable Contact Alerts
Contact Renaming
Extra Information for Contacts – store useful pieces of information for later retrieval via tooltip
Message History
Customizable “send” key
IRC support:
Ignore List
Friends/Enemy List
Encrypted DCC CHAT
File Transfer
Resizable nicklists
Nick completion
AOL Instant Messenger(SM) support:
File Transfer
Buddy Icons
Get Member info
Change personal details (profile, password, screen name appearance)
Privacy features
DirectIM support
Contact Search Support
ICQ® support:
File Transfer
View Member Information
Change personal details
Contact search support
Supports latest ICQ® 2001b protocols
Customizable listening ports for firewalls
Full Privacy features (invisible/visible lists, and more)
MSN Messenger support:
File Transfer
Group chats
Privacy Features
User is typing
Hotmail notifications
Yahoo! Messenger support:
Inbound file transfers
Privacy features
Yahoo! Mail notifications

By now, it’s obvious that Instant Messengers are now as necessary to enjoy one’s Internet connection as browsers and email client softwares. Instant Messengers offer a distinct experience all it’s own. Being “Instant”, one is able to communicate realtime with friends and family.

Anyone who’s been using any of the IMs for long can quickly become addicted to the sound of any of your contacts getting online. Whether you’re using IMs for just that – or whether you use your IM for the many different add-ons and enhancements such as informing you that you have email from someone in your contact list, or looking for like-minded people to chat with, etc., one thing is definitely for sure: IMs are a part of what makes the internet interesting and that means they’re here to stay.

However, there arises a new, albeit somewhat expected situation: The big three IMs, Y!, ICQ – AIM and MSN, have done such a good job at hooking people up to their respective IM services that in order to keep in touch with all your contacts you’ll need to have all of these installed on your computer, running at the same time. Unfortunately as well, despite each one being free to download, most people have their own preferred IMs, necessitating your having each one isntalled on your PC even more.

Granted, Instant Messengers take far less resources and hard disk space than browsers or email clients. Besides, any of the current Pentium 4s worth their bus speeds have more than enough power to run them all at the same time. Nowadays even the minimal Pentium 4 with at least 256 mb. of RAM you could even run a graphic application and burn a CD just and it wouldn’t even break a sweat.

So where’s the problem? Well it isn’t hardware nor software, it’s humanware – it’s just very annoying to have all these softwares running and vying for your attention all at the same time. Throw in the fact that one occasionally uses computers to do actual work with – a fact that seems to have been forgotten somewhat by the designers of some of these IMs that like to distract you and call attention to themselves a lot, and you have a pretty busy PC with several applications running – the four IMs, your browser and email client, plus of course one or two applications actually related to your work.

Things can get so distracting there was even a time when after I turned on my PC, waited for it to boot, logged on to the ‘net, turned on the IMs, dealt with a few messages from friends, and when was finally ready to face some work – started scratching my head wondering what it was I originally set out to do.

After a while of using these IMs side by side, the eventual question arises: Why not one IM for all? Fortunately, there are two good answers for that. Last month I reviewed Odigo, an excellent although slightly buggy Instant Messenger that like Trillian gathers your existing Y!, ICQ-AIM and MSN contacts, as well as offers you to be an Odigo user as well. This month we review Trillian, the second IM that gathers other IM contacts as well, but is so far advanced from Odigo that gathering contacts from other IMs is probably the only feature they share.

What’s A Trillian?

Apparently the word Trillian comes from a character in a sci-fi adventure story by writer Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” among others. Trillian is an Instant Messenger with a twist – there is no such thing as a “native” Trillian user. “Say what!?”, I hear you say? Well, it’s simple really: Trillian gathers your MSN, Y!, ICQ & AIM contact but doesn’t try and convert you or them to become a Trillian contact – because there’s no such thing as one. This is unlike Odigo, which also gathers other IM users but tries somewhat to convert them to Odigo users.

Not having native users can be good. You see, Odigo has features that native Odigo users enjoy over non-Odigo users. This means while basic features such as sending messages can be enjoyed while contacting, say, a Y! contact via Odigo, you will not be able to view their Personal Details as if you were using Y! IM – a possible marketing technique to entice people to migrate to Odigo, where all rich features are fully enjoyed, and grow its membership.

Trillian has no such pretensions. The folks at Cerulean Studios have no desire to eventually overtake the other IMs, and instead offer as much of a fully-functioning platform for Y!, ICQ-AIM and MSN users to use – with as little fuss as possible in the migration. Great pains are made in trying to make sure that every function available in the other IMs are available in Trillian as well.

Setting It Up

First thing’s first: You can download Trillian apparently from only one place: Download.com. I initially thought I could get it from their site, but Trillian.com is actually some type of homesite, and is obviously not their website. However, there was a link to ceruleanstudios.com and eventually to download.com, where I could download the IM, and from there I just followed the prompts.

The 2.343 mb. download was quick and easy, and installation was a snap. While installing, prompts ask you if you have Y!, MSN, ICQ and AIM on your computer, with appropriate instructions on migrating your contacts. After another minute or so and a restart, you’re up and running.

I have to admit, while visually appealing, it took me a while to get used to the interface. It is so clean and free from any text. But eventually, without having to read Help or anything, the smooth interface’s visual prompts will start guiding you, with small icons representing specific IMs turning colored once connected, and mouse-over messages on top of the buttons to tell you what they’re for.

Eventually once you get it going, and it’s not that hard for that to happen, you’ll realize that there’s only ONE button to get you connected. Oh sure, initially you’ll have to configure it to “Automatically Connect This Account On Startup” for each IM type (Y!, AIM, etc.) to make sure you don’t have to tell it to log in every time you use it, and you’ll have to rearrange a few contacts and maybe make a new Group or two to categorize them properly, but after that (and this might take a few minutes to sink in), That’s Pretty Much It. From now onwards, everytime you boot your PC and get online, You’ll Never Have To Tweak Individual IMs Again. Intense.

Features

Trillian is simplicity in itself. There are five types of ways for someone to contact you: AIM, ICQ, Y!, MSN and IRC, with each one easily configurable via Trillian’s “Connection Manager”. Connection Manager is basically Trillian’s interface where you can tweak and configure each individual IM’s connection options. From here you can tell Trillian to connect to each particular network once logged on the ‘net, remove any of these accounts from Trillian and even add accounts on any one of the networks without using the native IM for that task.

Of these, IRC was the one I had most trouble connecting with. For some reason I kept getting error messages logging on to DALNET, the only IRC server I was halfway familiar with. I eventually got it right, but in summary it was mostly my fault as I’m way too used to the more popular IRC client “mIRC” and Pirch, both of which have most settings already set up. In any case, it didn’t really matter as I hardly ever used it.

Sending messages is similar to the other IMs. Just double click on the contact you want to talk to, a message box appears and you type away. Trillian retains the respective ability to send offline messages as well. Trillian is pretty competent in saving logs of your conversations as well. The other IMs should take a cue from Trillian here, as you can change the application you use to save logs with. Window’s Notepad is default, and I’m pretty happy with this already, although it won’t obviously be able to save emoticons and formatting but that’s ok. Also, it saves all conversations on one file that keeps getting larger, which makes me wonder what would happen when it will eventually get too big for Notepad – most likely a message would just pop-up that it’s too big and recommend using Wordpad instead.

Trillian has a very extensive way to set up “Away” messages, which is probably necessary considering that the different IMs have
different ways of setting up their Away messages. Away messages are either treated like status messages or reply messages depending on what IM you are using, and Trillian developers shows very deep attention to detail in this regard. You can set your own away messages, use one of the pre-set ones, and save them so that you can activate them later on.

There are Y! and ICQ-AIM users who frequently use Away messages as ways to express themselves by describing their spur-of-the-moment feelings or emotions in place of the standard “Out To Lunch” or “Be Right Back” messages. I frequently see friends replace these with “Viewing Pirated VCDs” or “Performing Various Illegal Acts” or some such similar message. They will definitely enjoy being able to continue doing so with Trillian.

Skins

Skins is an excellent way to personalize your Trillian, and also serves the purpose of letting their community participate in developing Trillian use as well. There are so many Skins to choose from, with such categories as Operating Systems, Original, Ports and Technology.

Trillian is partners with DeviantART (http://www.deviantart.com), an online community of digital art designers which regularly contributes to making more skins for Trillian. Installing skins is a little difficult though, requiring a trip to the Help file for most beginners.

SideBar

Trillian features a sidebar that can be configured to stay on the left or right side of the application. It smoothly slides in and out and that’s great because not all Trillian users may find need for it. Regardless, it offers a quick view of your Internet Shortcuts and Tasks. Internet Shortcuts are the sites you’ve most recently visited while Tasks reveal what’s currently going on with your Trillian. I think this is smart, but surely there’s still quite a lot of space there for more stuff to put. Maybe they’ll make more use of it in the future.

Extra Features

– Transparency

Available only on Windows XP and 2k, Transparency is one of two features (the other being Containers) that I think is a direct response for people who’ve been screaming for a way to use their IMs without getting caught by the boss or nosey squealers in the office. Transparency basically makes your Trillian, the app itself, chat windows and all, transparent, and rather difficult to spot from afar. If you add a nice artsy wallpaper while running another application, say a Word Document or an Excel Spreadsheet or two, no one passing by will be able to notice that you’re chatting with people in the background. Kind of like an IM in stealth mode. Be careful not to overdo it, though, as occasionally it will blend in too well with the background that even you won’t see it.

For others who have no need to hide however, Transparency is basically a very cool way to change the look of your Trillian. Because of it, your monitor is a lot less cluttered.

– Containers

Another way to avoid clutter around your desktop is the very cool Containers, which basically allows you to have a small window wherein every other related chat window will appear in. So when the boss comes along, a single Minimize click will be enough to hide all damning evidence.

This is surely an excellent way to hide your extra-curricular office activities even more, something that the other older IMs should probably take note of, especially Odigo, which of all IMs I’ve tested likes to call attention to itself the most – in a literal sense.

Where Trillian is Tops

If I’ve yet to say anything negative about Trillian, it’s by no means a mistake. There is hardly anything to complain about with this excellent piece of software, which from the looks of it is the result of an active user community (more about this when I describe their website), and an equally active and attentive development team. Trillian gives me the same impression I get when I see a well-restored vintage automobile complete with all the trimmings, and again if I seem to be laying on the praises too heavily I am not exaggerating. Like most of the IMs it is a work in progress, and so far the work has been very good. Here are the reasons I think why:

– The Smoothest Integration of Other IMs, retains most of the IMs respective features.

The only thing I may miss with having separate IMs is that I am unable to send SMS messages via ICQ, sadly unavailable if I use Trillian. But that’s nitpicking. There is a more serious situation facing die-hard Y! and AIM users though, as Trillian is unable to provide support for webcam or microphone / headphone use – one of Y!’s best features. In any case, if you should decide to re-use Y!, ICQ, AIM or MSN once again inspite of having Trillian running, Trillian will automatically disconnect it’s connection with the respective network and allow the native application to run without interruption – a thoughtful add-on from developers who’ve obviously thought of that beforehand.

However if those features are not really important to you, everything else has been adequately supported by Trillian including Y! and MSN’s ability to inform you when you receive mail via their respective Y! Mail and Hotmail, and even their ability to display if the one your speaking to is typing a message, a feature I would sorely miss if not included. Another plus is when one ‘mouses-over’ a contact, every detail about that person that the native IM they’re using allows you to see is displayed. For an AIM contact, you get to see how long they’ve been online, if there have been warnings against any particular user, and what services (Buddy Icon, Voice Chat, Images, etc.) are available for him. In ICQ’s case, even their IP address (!), if available, is displayed prominently.

The native security features of each IM’s network is also supported. Using Trillian for AIM and MSN as well still allows you to “allow” and “block” contacts, ICQ supports “invisible”, “visible” and “ignore”, and Y! and IRC allow you to “ignore” specific users as well.

Again, Trillian is obviously dedicated to keeping up to date with the changes in these IMs, as shown by their frequently updated website. In AIM’s case they need to, as AIM still tries to block it’s users from being available to other IMs, but fortunately the people at Trillian quickly adjust whenever this happens – another sign that Trillian developers pay attention. Trillian’s smooth integration means that there is less pain migrating to it from other IMs – of crucial importance to it’s success.

— No ads.

Trillian is totally free, and absolutely devoid of any ads or similar system whatsoever to get you to buy anything. This actually makes me worry a bit, considering that there are hundreds of web-related businesses going down like flies regardless of whether they were popular or not. However Trillian does ask you really nicely to donate some money to them, using the popular PayPal network to do so.

Trillian’s lack of a need to advertise is also the reason for many of its endearing features. Since it doesn’t need to show itself much, they can start using “stealth-like” features such as Transparency – which IMs with ads will surely never do lest they hear complaints from their sponsors. It also allows Trillian to be fully resizable, you can stretch or compress it to almost any size with your mouse, again because there aren’t any ads that have to maintain a size ratio. There is probably some bandwidth savings to be had as well from not having to load ads, but that’s probably minimal. Finally, Trillian is so easy to remove from your screen. It’s never set to “Always On Top”, and for me that’s what IMs should always be: non-intrusive and just quietly functioning at the background, ready to help but only when you’re ready.

– The Best IM Website

Hands down, the best, the only IM website that displays details of actual usefulness to the user. This is what ICQ’s website should probably look like if they get their act together. Sure there is a truckload of information, and you can’t help that when trying to support such a popular application, but the Trillian website manages to display all these and pull it off nicely, without one getting lost.

Trillian’s online Community is adequately represented here, and it’s apparent that the community likes to talk, but more importantly Trillian likes to listen. This is important to Trillian as not only do they get good feedback about their application, but they may also use the Community to help support other Trillian users out there as well.

There are also literally tens of Skins to choose from, all properly categorized, displayed and free for download here as well. Skins are excellent added attractions to every IM, and again here, Trillian does not disappoint.

Having their Help files strictly online is a bit of a pain for me though, as sometimes I may want to tinker with it but am offline. It’s therefore impossible to check out the Help when not connected, but I hate most Help files anyway so it’s not that bad.

Finally, and this is really nitpicking, it’s a pity they didn’t get the domain Trillian.com, but maybe they can strike a deal with it’s current owner and make it look better so that future Trillian users won’t get such a misleading shock when they visit it.

– For The Sneaky, Clandestine IM User (That Means You)

Two words: Transparency and Containers. Finally an IM is developed by people who understand that the bulk of internet users with dedicated connections are still office-based, and that means that many are still doing so behind the boss’s back – which is exactly the reason why IMs had to develop ways to get over firewalls and proxy connections designed to eliminate such things.

Another thoughtful ‘feature’ that makes Trillian the hands-down choice for office chatters is that Trillian is so non-intrusive, and is easily the easiest to ‘remove’ from one’s screen. With a deft touch of the ESC button or the mouse-click of another application, Trillian windows either instantly disappear or is quickly “covered” by something else. Now, it doesn’t matter if the boss rearranged the office furniture so he can get a better look at staff’s monitors.

Pay attention Odigo, which by default (and you can’t change it) is “Always On Top” and requires you to reach for your mouse to Minimize it – a sure 2 or 3 second delay that may spell the difference from getting a memo should you fail to hear the boss’s footsteps coming down the hall. With Trillian, you can still chat your heart away while still looking like you’re hard at work – just try to keep that smirk off your face when he passes by and you know you’ve gotten one over him.

Conclusion

Well, someone has to be the best. But unlike in some cases when you choose a winner just because you have to, in this case Trillian just comes out smelling like roses, with everyone agreeing on the verdict and it’s competition eating its dust. Surely, it’s not perfect. For example, it severely screwed up my contacts categories after migrating them from their respective IMs. For example, why are Y! contacts called “friends” and ICQ is ICQ, MSN is MSN and AIM is AIM? Offline contacts are also handled curiously, although I set the Contact List Options to “Hide Offline Contacts”, every time I turn my PC on just before I get online I keep seeing all of them. I have to press the “+” button so that I wouldn’t have to scroll up or down when I get online.

For the more major gripes, there is no support for microphones or webcams – a sure turn-off for Y!, ICQ and AIM addicts of these features. There is also no web-based Trillian version, to use in case you’re not at your desk and am using a different PC such as those in an internet cafe. Finally there is no “check POP3 mail” option, which I kind of miss since I started using Odigo and ICQ’s versions of it.

But these are actually grumbles against it NOT HAVING a feature as opposed to having it and screwing it up badly. Surely, this can be remedied in the future simply by adding it on later, and besides they’re not serious at all. For the things that Trillian does, it does superbly well. It is just so easy to use, so nice to look at and is so thoughtful in its features (especially the ones that help you hide from superiors) that it’s a no-brainer – this is the best IM around.