As well as being the alias of Tricia McMillan, a character from Douglas Adams' The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Trillian is a win32-based instant messenger client.

With support for all the biggies -- IRC, MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ and Yahoo! Messenger -- Trillian attacks the problem of different groups of friends choosing different instant messenging mediums head-on. A recently-integrated plug-in architecture will make it much easier to implement support for other chat networks in the future (Jabber, for example).

Developed by Cerulean Studios (Kevin Kurtz and Scott Werndorfer, art by Ryan Saghir), the first public release of Trillian (supporting only IRC) appeared July 1, 2000 -- AIM, ICQ and MSN support was added November 29, 2000 and Yahoo! Messenger appeared December 23, 2000.

A few noteworthy features:

Best of all, some of the less persistent unpleasantness simply goes away when adopting a different client. Well, at least the advertisements and nags do.

Trillian is freeware and is under active development -- the usual problems plaguing some of the other 'unofficial' clients are quickly taken care of.

Early February of 2002, AOL declared war on all unauthorized third-party AIM clients -- Trillian's developers have released a number of patches in order to circumvent AOL's attempts to shut down the client.

In September of 2002, the Trillian developers released Trillian Pro v1.0, a flavour of Trillian with extended features, intended primarily for corporate use.

Trillian, the messenger client is much better than having the separate clients in a few ways.

  • It incorporates 5 or 6 standards into one program (MSN, AOL Instant Messenger, IRC, ICQ, Yahoo IM, and Jabber (Jabber is only in pro version).
  • It has some features that the separate clients don't, such as SecureIM, and Smileys.
  • It is totally skinnable, so you can have it look like AIM, Windows Messenger, or something that crawled out of the black lagoon.
  • It actually works with all the networks it's supposed to.
  • It's just totally cool (but thay's my opinion).

Trillian can be downloaded at the site:

To input all your user accounts, you can use the config windows when you first run it, or go into the preferences dialog using the Menu.

Trillian now comes in two flavours, the free version, at the time of writing Trillian 0.74, and the Pro version, currently 2.012. There are many differences between these two versions, but first the similarities:

  • AIM/ICQ support
  • Yahoo IM support
  • MSN Messenger support
  • IRC support
  • Skinnable
  • Logging of conversations
  • Lively forums on the Cereulean Studios website, with tips on using the clients and unofficial tech. support
  • Database of approved skins available free from website
  • Support for multiple connections to a single medium
Before I mention the Pro only features, I'm taking time out to say that it is true that some of these companies have tried to block Trillian from their IM networks in the past, but these problems have been sorted out now. I know that there is a deal with Microsoft, in exchange for allowing access to the MSN network, Trillian will not allow mass messaging on MSN as it does on other networks.

Trillian Pro features:

  • Plugin support
  • PNG support in skins
  • Pop-up alerts in the system tray
  • Graphical bells and whistles, for example transparencies of non active windows (optional!)
  • "Members only" section to forums, with discussions on Plugin development amongst other things
  • Support for multiple contact lists (to keep server-side contacts for different accounts on one medium separate)
At first, this list looks a little short to be paying $25/year for (note, you buy a subscription for a year, but all releases available during that year are available to you in perpetuity), but it is in the plugins that Trillian comes into it's own. There are additional media available, the following I know are available:and other plugins are available, from weather monitoring (Cabriometer) to the monitoring of system performance (PerfStats). From RSS news readers (RSS reader!) to a webserver that provides an interface (passworded) to your contact list from any PC or WAP mobile phone (cellphone) connected to the internet (I.M. Everywhere).

There is an active development community in C, C++, Delphi and even Perl (via a plugin that serves as an intermediary)

For skinners, there are two ways to skin, there is the standard XML based way, and another way called STIXIE, which separates the look and feel from the layout, which allows for some interesting combinations.

All in all, Trillian is an excellent client for those people who have friends on many IM systems, or want to maintain multiple lists on one system. It also provides a lot of interest for developers writing plugins (over 100 are currently available). If you are any of these, have a look, you may wonder how you ever survived without it.

Trillian is periodically in an arms race with Yahoo -- Yahoo, which doesn't have ads in its own client, periodically changes its code so as to make their network inaccessible with Trillian.

I believe they assert this reduces their vulnerability to spamming. I fail to see how, but I don't know what other explanation there might be.

The most recent such incident occurred in June 2004. One user told CNet it was "Yahoo's attempt to stifle progress."

On the other side, the minor instant message spam (or "spim", sadly) problem has been compared to the minor e-mail spam problem of a decade or so ago. It may not be big now—I've not seen it—but apparently it's coming, and Yahoo wants to stop it before it's too late.

"Spammers are being aided by entities that are accessing our systems without our consent," said Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako.

A logical person might suggest Cerulean and Yahoo attempt to broker a deal, that is, to obtain consent. A miserly person such as myself can see the virtue in the current system, even if I use Trillian and my girlfriend in Nevada (I know, I know) is in practical terms only on Yahoo.

Since they do have ads, I would think it's AIM that would keep trying to pull this, but no. I don't use MSN Messenger, but I haven't seen indications that even Microsoft is trying this stunt.

In any case, Cerulean Studios promptly creates a patch for it, of course, and thenceforth all is right with the world.

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