It's the Esperanto of the Instant Messaging world; Trillian lets you communicate with all the major messaging programs.
I live, therefore I message. That's the credo of not just teenagers everywhere, but also for people like me. I use instant messaging to keep in touch with editors, friends, and other authors, as well as readers of my books. And I frequently use it along with conference calls; while the larger group is speaking over the phone, I instant-message others in the phone conference to get background information and make occasionally less-than-flattering remarks about speakers who revel in the sounds of their own voices.
But as all instant message users know, there's a big drawback to instant messaging: the major instant messenger programs, including Windows Messenger, can't communicate with one another. That's a bit like being able to make phone calls only to people who use the same brand of telephone as yours, but given the economics and ego that drives the instant messaging industry, that shows no sign of changing any time soon.
However, there's a great workaround, and it's free. The universal instant messaging program Trillian will let you communicate with users of with ICQ, Windows Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and AOL Instant Messenger as well as the old Internet chat standby IRC. You don't need to install any of those programs; just run Trillian (http://www.ceruleanstudios.com), shown in Figure 8-21.
After you install Trillian, enter your usernames and passwords from your other instant messengers. When you do that, Trillian automatically uses those contact lists, so you don't need to reenter them. To enter a new contact from inside Trillian, choose the Add Contact button, tell Trillian which program your contact uses, and then fill in the contact information. Because instant messaging programs store your contacts on their servers, rather than locally on your PC, when you add contacts like this, these new contacts will not only be available in Trillian, but also when you use your instant messaging program.
If you have accounts on more than one instant messaging program, Trillian signs you into all of them when you log in, so you get a single sign-in and are then available everywhere.
Trillian lets you use some, but not all of the features of each individual instant messenger program. For example, you'll be able to send files as you can with instant messengers. But you can't, for example, use the Windows Messenger whiteboard or application sharing.
One problem with instant messaging with any program is the way that it leaves you open to the world: anyone who wants to contact you can, including increasingly aggressive messaging spammers. Each individual program gives you controls over who can contact you and how you want to be contacted, and Trillian also lets you customize your privacy for each of the programs. Right-click on the big Trillian icon near the bottom of the Trillian screen and choose Preferences. Then, scroll to the bottom of the list to where it says Chatting Services. You'll find ways to customize your privacy, which differ according to the service's capabilities, as shown in Figure 8-22.
Trillian is skinnable, so you can easily change its appearance. To choose a new skin, select Skins in the Preferences screen shown in Figure 8-22, and choose either Launch Skin Chooser to choose from any skins already on your system, or Get More Skins to choose from skins online.
Trillian is one of the few programs that takes advantage of XP's transparency capabilities [Hack #18]. To make Trillian transparent, right-click anywhere in the program and choose Advanced Options Transparency. You can then choose a transparency of anywhere from 10% to 90%, where 10% is the least transparent, and 90% is the most transparent. I'd suggest using 10%; any more than that and it becomes very difficult to see the program or chat with it.
There are two versions, one of which is free, and the other, called Trillian Pro, costs $25. The Pro version includes a plug-in system that allows third-party developers to create plug-ins that you can download for free. For example, there are plug-ins for delivering the weather and news, checking your POP3 email accounts, integrating with WinAmp MP3 software, and more. The Pro version has other features as well, such as the ability to videoconference using the Yahoo! portion of Trillian.
Gaim (http://gaim.sourceforge.net) is another universal instant messenger. Earlier versions tended to crash unexpectedly on XP, but more recent versions are more stable. It's not as handsome-looking as Trillian, and it doesn't take advantage of as many of the built-in features as each of the instant messengers in the same way that Trillian does. But it's open source and runs on many other platforms, not just Windows.