Trillian 0.71

For now, Trillian is our favourite IM client, bar none. Download it today if you use more than one of the Big Four instant messengers.

Even IM beginners will find it easy to get Trillian going. Setup wizards guide you through the important part: giving Trillian the usernames and passwords from the services you want to use. Next, Trillian logs you on to each of the services you've chosen, grabs your current contact lists from Yahoo, MSN and AOL servers, and imports your ICQ pals from the database on your hard drive. No problem.

Trillian consumes about 3.8MB of RAM, about the same as AIM and half as much as Windows Messenger. Running Trillian saved us about 20MB of memory on our Windows XP machine (since we run only one IM client, not four). If you're trying to get by with a PC that has little RAM to spare, Trillian is a great deal.

The default Trillian interface (which is pleasantly advert-free) looks like a cross between a cellphone and a Star Trek firearm. Trillian shows all your buddies, both online and off, in a cramped display. Fortunately, you can ditch this crowded look in minutes, by downloading skins. We downloaded a few colourful ones from Cerulean's Web site and deviantArt (Web site) and settled on a skin that looks a lot less artistic, but much more functional.

Skins aside, Trillian's strength lies in its interoperability. Trillian works as advertised: click a buddy, no matter which of those four services he or she is using, and a chat window opens where you can type and send a message.

One neat trick that only Trillian pulls off (sorry, Odigo fans) is the ability to grab contact lists off servers and, in some cases, dynamically update them. When you first add your MSN, Yahoo and AIM account info, for example, Trillian pulls your pals off the list kept on each service's servers. Make changes to your MSN or Yahoo list, and Trillian automatically sends those modifications to the server so that your contact lists are always up-to-date. Trillian doesn't yet do this with ICQ, even though ICQ 2001b now stores contacts on a remote server, and it won't update the list on AOL's AIM server yet, but its developers say they're working on it.

Trillian treats each IM service individually, so that the features available to, say, ICQ users (such as making yourself invisible to some, but not all, buddies) are also accessible here. You can send files to MSN, ICQ and AOL pals (but not those on Yahoo); use buddy icons when you chat with AOL buddies; receive alerts when you have new Yahoo Mail or Hotmail; and establish a direct computer-to-computer connection between Trillian and an AOL buddy for sending pictures. Trillian even tells you when your friend is typing from MSN Messenger, which helps prevent cross-talking.

OK, it's not perfect -- Trillian doesn't do everything. It can't, for example, handle multiparty chat except with MSN pals, it doesn't offer a free chat room feature (AIM, MSN, and ICQ do), and you can forget about the video chats such as those offered by Yahoo Messenger and Windows Messenger (the XP version of MSN Messenger). We also really miss PC-to-PC audio calls that you find in other messengers (take ICQ, for example), which can cut long distance phone charges in half.

And although we didn't have any problems using Trillian behind a firewall in our tests -- we successfully transferred files from behind Norton Personal Firewall to AIM, MSN and ICQ buddies -- we've heard that some users haven't been so lucky. Check out the messages on the Trillian user message boards. Trillian does provide a setting where you can designate proxy configurations, but you may find that your firewall prevents file transfers. If so, search the message boards for a solution using words such as firewall or file transfer.

Trillian doesn't provide any security settings of its own, but instead relies on those within the other IM services you're using. It automatically transfers some settings from the clients and services you use, but you may need to do a little work to set up more advanced security features. For example, if you want to create ICQ ignore lists (people you don't want to hear from or want to block from seeing your online status), you have to go into Preferences and manually create those lists using the Add button under ICQ Privacy Settings.

Freeware doesn't usually provide professional-quality tech support, but Trillian is different. Its online help may be thin, and Trillian doesn't offer dedicated email or phone support. But Trillian's aforementioned message boards, which are monitored by Trillian's developers, deliver troves of helpful information.

We love this sparky IM that thumbs its nose at the big boys. If you want to stay in touch with pals on four different services without using up tons of valuable RAM, download Trillian immediately.

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