As one of the granddaddies of multi-network IM clients, Trillian doesn't seem as revolutionary as it once was, but it still provides a simple and solid way to keep communication alive across many instant messenger protocols. Unfortunately, you have to upgrade to the Pro version to take advantage of the most compelling features.
A Clean Interface
Trillian, a Windows-only chat program (a Mac version is in private Alpha testing at press time), comes in two varieties: Basic (free) and Pro ($25). It has a very basic, clean blue-and-white interface that groups contacts by instant messaging service (the Basic version lets you to chat with AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger contacts).
Above the contact lists are the mail accounts associated with each IM client that display the number of unread messages. Both the free and Pro versions offer amenities you'd expect in an IM application, such as customizable skins and group conferences. Both versions also include the handy Instant Lookup tool, which links certain key words in your conversations to Wikipedia entries so you can get background information on a topic just by mousing over it.
By purchasing the software, you get plug-in support (spell-checker, shipment tracker, and more), compatibility with Apple's iChat, extra eye candy (animated icons, transparencies), e-mail notification, and Emotiblips (the video equivalent of an emoticon, which lets users stream a song or video during video chats). Unfortunately, the hyped picture-in-picture chatting and full-screen video calls are rendered useless as video chats are disabled in Version 3.1. Cerulean Studios (the company behind the IM client) states that it will be enabled in Trillian 4.0 (Astra), which is currently in invite-only alpha testing.
Despite the fact that the webcam feature is kaput, Trillian retains AOL, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger video chatting, as well as Jabber, Novell GroupWise, and Rendezvous support for the Pro version. Video chatting is included for free with Meebo, while compatibility with more-obscure clients is free with Adium (a Mac-only program). Though file transfers--a staple of instant messengers--is supposedly a feature for both versions of Trillian, we could not get this feature to work in the Free version.
One application that would've made Trillian Pro worth the purchase is Time Travel, a feature that lets you record, pause, rewind, and fast-forward a live audio/video chat with an easy-to-use interface (think of it as a DVR for your instant messenger). Unfortunately, Trillian 3.1's lack of video-chat support negates the advantages that the Pro version brings.
Unless you're intent on using only basic instant messaging chats, it's difficult to recommend Trillian, considering how many other programs offer file transfers, compatibility with a wider range of instant clients at no charge, and audio/video Web chats.