Trillian Astra Brings IM and Social Networks Together

Trillian Astra (Free version and 30-day trial of $25 Pro as one download), the latest communications program from Cerulean Studios, can pull together a wide variety of instant messenger accounts and Web services like Facebook and Twitter. But it goes a bit far with the information it wants to publicly share.

Trillian Astra screenshot
Trillian Astra updates the look and functionality of the longtime favorite multiple-IM client.

When you first install Trillian Astra, you can select from a wide variety of accounts to bring under its control. Your AOL IM account can be pulled in, as can Yahoo, ICQ, Google Talk and others. Twitter and Facebook chats can join the party too.

Trillian Astra's main app window displays a connection status for all of your signed-in accounts, along with a list of all your contacts. Contacts by default display according to their connection status (connected, offline), and hovering over any one of them pops-up a useful window that shows how long that person has been connected and what capabilities his or her IM program has (such as a microphone or file transfer ability).

The handy tabbed window used for chat conversations can contain multiple conversations at once, or you can have it split up according to contact groups. From the same window you can also kick off a group chat session, or view a history of your chats with that particular contact.

While Trillian Astra contains a host of additional features, the most notable for the new version is the Astra service itself. Using the program means signing up for the service, which allows for centrally storing your contact list for use whenever you install Trillian Astra. Your identities and account logins are likewise stored online, encrypted and only readable by you, according to Cerulean Studios.

However, the Astra service wants to make a host of other information entirely public. When you install the app and sign up for Astra, you'll go through a series of forms that ask for your name, age and date of birth. You're even prompted to supply your marital status and sexual orientation, which seems a little odd for anything other than a dating service. In the same vein, bringing in Facebook means being being asked to allow the app to publish posts or comments without prompting you (I said no).

You don't have to fill in any of the requested personal information, but if you do, it all goes up on a public profile under your name on the company's Web site. Text above each form does make clear that the information will be displayed on the Web as well as to other Astra users, but if you happen to gloss over such instructions you might be in for an unwelcome surprise. That is, unless you do want your mood, location, and sexual orientation laid out for the world.

The chatty app installs as a 30-day trial version of its paid Pro version, which includes a graphical history view, technical support, and browser-based access to Astra. You can continue to use Trillian Astra Free after that 30-day trial or pay $25 to stay with Pro.

Trillian Astra offers a host of nice features for managing your online conversations. Just watch out that you don't accidentally strike up a personal conversation with the entire Web.

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