The folks at Cerulean Studios are working on the next release of Trillian, version 4, code-named Astra. But there's always new IM software being released, is Trillian Astra more fluff or the right stuff?
Let's take a look at some of the highlights from the Trillian Astra Web site and try to answer this question. Of course, since the software is still in Alpha much of this can be considered speculation until Astra is released.
Trillian Astra is said to support more technologies than any similar chat client before it. MySpace IM and Google Talk are on the list of supported protocols. Several updates have been made to file transfers (something I rarely use) providing better support for sending multiple files and newer support for the latest versions of file transfer protocols from the major IM networks. The highlight in this category, in my opinion, are the new capabilities native with IMCore, the code behind every Astra plugin. IMCore's set of C++ classes means all IM protocols are built around the same set of code. The largest benefit with IMCore, is it compiles natively on Windows, Linux, and get this, OS X!!! That means Trillian's IM client will now - after all these years - work on the Mac!!!!
Trillian Astra is supposed to perform much better and faster than its previous versions. Astra does this by speeding up the network connections between the client and the IM services like AIM and MSN. Memory utilization has also been decreased by creating a smaller memory footprint through more flexible, lighter XML routines. Several known memory leaks have also been plugged. Lastly, through the use of barebones skins for Astra, you can further decrease the needed resources speeding up your instant messsaging.
Integration with the Web
Adding fuel to the Web 2.0 fire, Trillian Astra will integrate directly with the Web adding client-less two-way communication. I'm not entirely sure how this will work in the end, but at this time it seems you will have the ability to chat using a Web-enabled, client-free chat tool integrated within an Astra Web site. You'll log-in to the Web site and have immediate access to your Astra contact-list and features. You'll chat in this online interface as well. However, this doesn't mean there won't be a desktop client, there will. How Cerulean Studios is accomplishing this desktop-Web-desktop bridge is not quite clear. Supposedly, Astra is built - at least in part - on Adobe's Flash technology. Changes you make on your desktop client automatically update the Web version. This means a single URL will be the hub for your current status as an Astra user. Taking things further, the Web site will allow you to integrate other online identity services like blogs, photo-sharing applications and more. I haven't seen any direct references to what will be possible here, but the Astra Web site mentions all the possibilities with the new Widgets technology one of which is a Flickr widget.
Contact List and Message Window
The contact list and message window have been completely revamped supporting easy image sharing through drag and drop and a new handwriting mode. RSS is also integrated into message windows allowing you to keep up with your feeds from Astra. You can now "buzz" your contacts which is an amazingly annoying way to get someones attention. A host of other UI features are included creating a more streamlined and efficient chat tool. Searching your contact list has also been greatly enhanced with a new Spotlight search (not sure how they're getting away with entrenching on Mac OS X's famed "Spotlight" search code name). What's different with this Spotlight search is you must press enter to see search results instead of them listing as you type.
Trillian Skins have changed a bit with Astra with the greatest enhancement eliminating the need to restart Trillian after changing your skin. Skins now support themes making it easier to integrate Astra with your desktop look without creating a special skin. There's also new support for per-pixel alpha transparency making skinning much more flexible than it was in the past. Couple this with the new layering abilities, and you can create "deep" skins that look more polished and realistic.
That's enough coverage for now. The most exciting features are the OS X integration and the Web/desktop integration. The performance enhancements would be next on my list. I've signed up for the alpha and will hopefully get a chance to test-drive Astra on my own soon.