Trillian: Multi-Service Instant Messaging for Mac
Trillian from Cerulean Studios may be familiar to Windows users, as it has a history dating right back to year 2000. Originally a client for IRC (Internet Relay Chat), over the years it added support for a range of instant messaging service including AIM, Yahoo!, MSN and ICQ to the point where Cerulean claim “Trillian connects to everything.”
In this review, we’ll look at how well it has made the transition with a recently launched Mac OS version, and how it stands up against the strong competition!
When you start Trillian after installation you are prompted to register a new Trillian Astra account or sign in with an existing one. Registering – which involves choosing one of Trillian’s rather inflexible security questions – creates an Astra account which you can use so that your settings are synchronized between every device on which you use Trillian across Mac, iPhone, Windows or the Web .
Creating an Astra account
You are now asked to provide the log in details of your IM accounts you want to use with Trillian.
Setting up accounts
Finally, you are invited to to add your Facebook and Twitter logins and, once you’ve done that, you’re through set up and can start to use Trillian.
From within the Preferences screen, you can easily control your accounts with the different chat services. The exact items you can control vary according to what each service allows but generally, you can manage settings for proxy servers, privacy and notification preferences here.
Preferences control each service’s options
Trillian doesn’t support skinning, but you can use preferences to choose if it appears as a menu bar item and also set the visibility of the Contacts lists. You can also set the overall alert policy to use audible or Growl notifications (or both).
Accounts & Contacts
The Contacts list is the core of Trillian. You’ll find it most helpful once you’ve set up a number of different chat services as you can see all your contacts in one place grouped by the service they reside on. You can also add your own groups, such as Friends, to organise them in a way that best suits you.
For each contact you can initiate a chat or view your chat history with them from this list. You can also set your status across all your networks with a single click.
In the same way you can manage your contacts across services from within Trillian – there is a single screen that lets you manage all your accounts. Once you’ve opened it, you can connect or disconnect from any individual chat service or set your status on a particular service. Again, the options available to you for each service are limited by those the service itself allows.
Contacts and Accounts
Once you’ve set up your accounts and contacts to your liking, chatting itself is straightforward. Trillian offers the ‘speech bubble’ conversation view which is commonplace for chat and text apps. You can view your chat history with any contact. In this early Mac release, however, group chatting is not yet supported so your conversations are restricted to one on one. You can, though, use Trillian to send files and receive files.
Chatting in Trillian
In addition to the various chat services, Trillian also supports Facebook and Twitter. If you set up your accounts, you can choose to show menu bar items that, when clicked, will open Twitter or Facebook windows.
One of the attractions of Trillian is its Astra web service. In addition to syncing your accounts across whichever platforms you install Trillian, Astra lets you chat online without any client software. Thus you can log into any web browser, see your contact list and chat with people.
Although this is undoubtedly convenient when you’re away from your Mac, you can easily find yourself triggering security warnings from some of your chat services when they detect you logging in from an unexpected IP address.
In addition to the web service, there is also an iPhone app priced at $4.99, and software for Android and BlackBerry.
Cerulean Studios has done a good job of bringing Trillian to the Mac but as we’ve previously identified there is a lot of competition in this area (including iChat which shipped with your Mac).
There are strongly established products which Trillian needs to beat in terms of attractiveness and flexibililty if it is to succeed on the Mac. With this early version of Trillian, some bugs were apparent but the developers have been active and have already released an update via the Mac App Store.
Trillian’s strength is the combination of the number of services it supports, as well as the range of platforms it runs on including the Astra web service. If you frequently have to switch between computers, the synchronisation of your contacts and chat history is very attractive.
There are several drawbacks to the current version. Not all the features from other platforms have arrived on the Mac yet. As well as group chatting there is no webcam or audio support, and you can’t choose Skype as as service. There is also no integration with the Mac Address Book so you are obliged to maintain two contact lists.
All in all, this release is a promising debut for the Mac version of Trillian and, as the developers add features already present on other operating systems, it will be well worth watching for those with who like to chat, and value the associated ‘chat anywhere’ freedom that the Astra account offers.
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