Odigo 3.1

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  • Editors' rating
    6.0 Good

Pros

  • Accesses ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and AIM buddies
  • finds other Odigo buddies on Web sites
  • can conduct voice chat with other Odigo users.

Cons

  • Lacks advanced privacy features
  • confusing, tabbed interface
  • unreliable integration with ICQ, especially from behind a firewall.

In a perfect world, just one IM would do. But this is an imperfect planet, so we're forced to shuffle one client after another to keep track of all our pals. Right? Wrong. Odigo 3.1, like Trillian, is a messenger with enough clout to connect you to AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. But it's not as slick as Trillian, which handles the same quartet of IM services with fewer hassles and more panache. We once recommended Odigo above all other IMs but, these days, we find its features lacklustre and its service unreliable.

Odigo hasn't changed its sci-fi interface since we last reviewed it. Tabs still separate views, such as the People In Page/Site view that displays other Odigo visitors at Web sites you're surfing. A button on the main display lets you add a friend quickly, and just one click on your pal's name in your contact list starts a chat session. Odigo consumes just 3MB of RAM, making it petite compared to memory-hungry IMs such as ICQ.

Another Odigo boon: this IM boasts a set of unusual, simple-to-use extras. It turns any Web site into an ad hoc chat room, for instance. If you're running Odigo and visit ZDNet Software, for example, Odigo's People In Page/Site display reveals a list of potential chat partners on that site. Click any name to send a private message or invite several buddies to a multiparty chat. It's a 'just-add-water' way to meet people online. Other features new to version 3.1 include automatic forwarding of Odigo messages to email enabled pagers, PDAs and cellphones; extensive foreign-language versions (14 altogether); and a plug-in that lets you use Odigo as a miniature Web browser. If the extras aren't enough, Odigo is also fun to use -- you can play around with skins, for example.

Odigo is impressive enough if you're just chatting with other Odigo pals, but this messenger's ability to reach friends from other IM programs is its best trick. Alas, although Odigo automatically imports contact lists from MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger, we had to resort to a manual import for AIM (even though AIM users' lists are now stored on AOL's servers) and we were never able to grab our ICQ list. You can add pals from any of these four IM services manually by clicking the Add button, of course, but this is a hassle you won't find in Trillian.

Once you import your buddies, Odigo displays which ones are online and the messenger program they're using. You can send them messages as if they, too, were using Odigo. At least, that's how it's supposed to work. Although we were able to see the online status of AIM, Yahoo and MSN friends and chat with them without a hitch, ICQ proved to be a big problem. As long as our ICQ pal had a firewall enabled, we experienced a slew of strange stutters. Sometimes, we weren't able to see if the pal behind the firewall was online, while at other times we could; he could send us messages (he saw that we were online), but we never got them. Odigo's support staff weren't much help on this front, either, returning our email query with a cryptic response: '...the problem you were facing is familiar to us, and a solution will be introduced in our Web site shortly'.

And, unfortunately, all of Odigo's really cool chat tools are out of bounds when you're communicating with pals on other IM platforms. You can send those buddies instant messages or URLs, but you can't conduct a voice chat or multiparty conference or send files as you can in Trillian. Only Odigo-to-Odigo IMers benefit from advanced features. And not always then; if you're protecting your PC with a firewall, you can forget about sending files to other Odigo users or even initiating a one-on-one chat.

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Even though it doesn't do the best job of combining your contact lists, Odigo nicely integrates with POP3 email accounts, as well as accounts on Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and AOL's Web-based email on AOL.com. The program notifies you when you have new email at one of those services and displays your email subject lines. Simply click to view your Web-based email in-box or launch your POP3 account to retrieve new mail.

In addition, this IM serves up private chat rooms, a window that displays content from selected Web sites, and voice chats with other Odigo users (if you have a microphone and speakers or a headset). You should also try Odigo Express, a Web-based IM (like ICQ Lite) that lets you chat with your buddies without downloading or installing any software. The Web-based buddy list lets you talk only to other Odigo pals, however; there's no connection to AIM, Yahoo, MSN, or ICQ buddies.

Unique tools aside, Odigo is missing some privacy features that come standard in the competition, such as custom invisibility, which hides you from buddies and would-be buddies even when you're online. But Odigo does offer tech support via email or through the extensive online help and FAQ centre. There's no phone support, alas.

Odigo has too many quirks for our taste. Although its unique angle on instant messaging wins a few hearts, Trillian leaves it trailing.

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