Trillian Chat Client: The Right Tool for the Job?
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Trillian Chat Client
By: Anthony Sullivan
Today we’ll be reviewing an all-in-one instant messenger tool that has been around for a while. Trillian is produced by Cerulean Studios and can be downloaded from the TechRepublic software library.
The latest version is 126.96.36.199 which was released in May of this year.
Let’s get started!
Normally I wouldn’t go into a great deal of detail on how to install software, but in this case there are a couple of things you want to know before you just run through clicking Next until you are done.
The destination folder isn’t one of them though.
Choose your destination or leave the default and click Next.
The Weather Channel Desktop
Here is the first of the “extras” that come with this install. This is new with the latest patch as I understand it and is fully optional as long as you pay attention.
Unless you really want the Weather Channel Desktop app running in your task bar, you should uncheck this box and click Next.
Ask.com would just love for you to install their add-on taskbar for your browser. More than likely you either already have a great toolbar add-on or don’t want one at all, so make sure you uncheck these two checkboxes.
Before we go on, I should say that I hate to see this stuff in an installation but I love that they’ve made it optional. To me that says “We need to make money on this product but we also respect our users.”
Click Next to continue.
After zipping through the installation tasks you’ll see the Launch button. Click it to complete the installation and begin configuring Trillian.
Welcome to Trillian!
Since you more than likely haven’t purchased Trillian yet you’ll, want to choose Trillian Basic here. The Pro version of Trillian has a few extra features that you may or may not care about. But for now, we’ll just look at the basics.
Setting up an identity
Trillian uses an identity to parent over all the different types of connections you have. This identity is arbitrary and can be anything regardless of the clients you intend to use with Trillian.
Choose one and click Next.
Here we can choose the individual protocols we intend to use in Trillian. More than likely you only use one or two protocols right now, so you might want to uncheck any protocols you aren’t planning on using. They are easy to activate later.
If you don’t see any protocols you use then you might want to check out Trillian’s Web site to ensure they support your protocol of choice. There is support for several more protocols, called plug-ins, that can be added after installation.
Now that you’ve chosen your protocol(s), you will be asked to set them up. If you chose to leave a protocol active for which you don’t have a login, you can click the Register button to create a new account.
Type in your credentials and click Next.
You’ll see a screen like this for each protocol you chose to activate. Again, you can see the Register button, which will open a window in which you can create a new account.
AOL Instant Messenger
This is all very exciting I know but the fact that we can set up all these different protocols is an important feature of Trillian. Once the initial setup is completed, you’ll be able to chat with friends who use a variety of networks, all using the same familiar interface.
Menu items - Managing connections
Now let’s have a look at the menu options available.
By clicking Connections | Manage my Connections, we are able to add, remove, or edit the connections that Trillian uses.
Menu items - Status
Trillian allows us to set ourselves as either away or back on individual networks as well as on all at once. You can create custom away messages that you can save, and they will appear in this menu.
Setting up new contacts
Adding contacts is pretty easy. Simply select the group from the destination group box and then the ‘medium’ or protocol from the medium group box.
You can add new groups by clicking the Create New Group button.
Setting up contact groups
Type in a group name and hit ok to see your group added to the destination group box.
Hit next once you’ve chosen your destination and medium.
Now you need to add the username of your new contact. This would be the handle that they go by on the particular network you chose on the previous screen. You can add multiple screen names without much hassle from this screen by typing in their name and hitting the Add button.
To add another contact simply type in their name and hit Add again.
This might sound like a no brainer but many chat applications tend to make it tiresome to add many new contacts at once.
Once you’ve added all the contacts you want to add click Done.
Our first contact
We now have a contact in our list and can begin conversing with them whenever we like. But first let’s look at some more of the configuration options available to us.
Chose the menu item Trillian Preferences from the Trillian menu.
In a page out of Microsoft’s book, which many of you will say is a page out of Apple’s book, the options menu has a very dashboard-like feel to it.
You’ll notice a number of icons in the main content area of your options screen. They represent different categories of options.
The Pick a Task menu on the right is useless; all of these options are easily available straight from the Trillian menu.
Click on Installation & Startup.
Installation and Startup
After I click on one of the items, the window morphs into what I think is a much more manageable screen for configuration.
For the sake of brevity, I won’t cover every option Trillian has. I will, however, cover the highlights of each screen.
Load Trillian when my computer starts up – I have no idea why this comes unchecked by default, but most people will want their chat software running at all times when they are logged in.
Hide Contact List – The basic version doesn’t allow for auto hiding the contact list when docked, so you might want to check this box if you don’t plan on upgrading to the Pro version.
Identities and Connections
This is the same screen you will see when you select Connections | Manage my Connections from the Trillian menu. You can click on any existing connection to edit or delete it. Clicking the Add A New connection button will allow you to add a new connection.
Here you can configure how Trillian judges when you are away and when you are back.
– Automatic Status Changes – I unchecked all three options in this category because I don’t like to find myself away while I was watching a movie on my computer or playing a video game.
Mute Trillian sounds – I checked this because if I’m truly away it can be annoying to others in my home that my computer makes random noises when someone sends me an instant message.
– Hide empty groups – This will hide groups that have no online members.
– Dock the Contact List when near the edge of the screen – This obviously docks the contact list on whatever edge you like. I like this feature, but it lacks the auto-hide feature that the pro version has. This feature alone is reason enough to upgrade.
On this screen you can configure the way your chat windows behave.
– Flash the window X times when a new message or request arrives – I’d raise this number to 99 to avoid missing a message while you are distracted. Three flashes just isn’t enough.
– Group message windows together according to Contact List groups – I found this feature annoying. It causes the instant message windows you get to group to a parent window. I found that when I got messages that were grouped in windows I already had open I didn’t see them come in.
– Underline words with encyclopedia entries in green – This is a neat feature. It causes the client to provide an overlay with definitions of words that are included in Wikipedia. This includes pop culture references as well. It says that this is a performance intensive feature, but I noticed no slow down.
Here you can configure how the text in your chat windows look. You can also change the shortcut keys to match those of your favorite chat client.
I did not modify these settings.
Using this screen, you can change the source for audio input and output when using audio chat. Audio chat is only available if the protocol you use supports it.
I did not modify these settings.
On this screen, you can tell Trillian where to save files that you receive over the various networks. You may choose a virus protection executable to scan the files you receive. I recommend you set up this feature for your own protection.
Many instant-messaging exploits send virus-laden files to everyone on a person’s contact list. This will appear to be sent by a person whom you probably trust.
Depending on what you use your instant messenger for, you may want to limit what you log here. This creates a plain text file on your hard drive containing all your chats. This is stored under your Windows profile but can be read by anyone who has access.
You can also specify where the logs are stored. You might choose a place that you regularly back up if you plan on keeping these logs.
The plug-ins screen allows you to activate or deactivate plug-ins. The ones installed be default represent the different protocols. There are dozens of plug-ins available for Trillian. Some add additional functionality while others allow you to connect to other networks.
You can find them listed on the Trillian Web site.
Advanced Preferences - Proxy Server
When you click on Advanced Preferences, you’ll find a few additional option pages. The Proxy Server tab is the only one that seemed to matter to me. This allows you to setup Trillian to connect via proxy server. This is very handy for using Trillian inside corporate networks.
That covers the highlights of the Trillian Preferences. Click close to complete the configuration.
Docking the contact list
Now that we’ve configured Trillian, we can get to using it. First, let’s dock the contact list to an edge. Click View | Docking | Right to dock the contact list to the right side of the desktop.
Our contact list is now docked. By double-clicking John, the contact I added earlier, I can bring up an instant message window.
Now I’ve sent John a text message. Notice the window title Buddies. This means that our contact windows are being grouped together by contact group. Beneath the window title, you can see the tab labeled John. Next to it you see an arrow with a line under it. This will cause the John tab to become its own chat window.
Menu Item - Actions
The Actions menu changes depending on what protocol you are using. The features that are available will be listed here.
Right click context menu
You’ll find the same options as well as a couple of others such as View Contact History when you right click on a contact in your contact list.
View Contact History
Selecting View Contact History from the menu will bring up a text file containing the logs of all your chats with this contact.
The Pro version has a much more feature-rich interface for viewing logs that allows you to easily view the logs for a particular date as well as containing advanced search features.
By selecting Set Notifications you can add notifications to alert you when a contact comes online or goes offline. Click this option to see the configuration screen for notifications.
Here you can choose what type of notification you receive, and how you are notified.
By checking the Save this alert checkbox, you can save the alert permanently. If this is not checked you will only add this notification until it is fired or until you restart Trillian.
Is Trillian the Right Tool for the Job?
That completes this review of the basic features Trillian provides.
As you can see it provides a feature rich single-client solution for the many chat protocols available. Years of watching this heavily populated market surge and resurge with each new player is a good indication that these types of software packages are the only way we as users will ever know anything remotely close to a single chat solution.
Trillian seems to be the leader of the pack with the most features and protocol support of the lot. In addition, a new version of Trillian is currently in development, which indicates that this strong player isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
With the exception of some questionable add-ons can be de-selected during installation, I can find no fault in Trillian.
Trillian is, without question, the Right Tool for the Job.