Qnext and Trillian 3.1

These instant messaging programs let you monitor other IM services simultaneously using single, advertising-free interfaces. With one more P2P-oriented and the other more communications-focused, find out which works for

March 18, 2005

5 Min Read
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In response to these problems, several applications have appeared that let you monitor the IM services simultaneously using a single, advertising-free interface. Two of these, Trillian and Qnext, recently came out with new iterations of their software, and both offer free personal apps. Trillian also has a $25 Pro version that offers enhanced services, while Qnext's site says it will be offering premium services in the future.


Until recently, I opted for Qnext. I had tried Trillian, but the version I used proved problematic. First, I found the default interface more stylish than substantial, and I didn't have the patience to start searching through skins. In addition, I had trouble configuring my MSN Messenger feed.

Qnext's clean, simple interface

Click to Enlarge

In contrast, Qnext offered a clean, easy-to-navigate interface and immediately recognized both my AIM and MSN Messenger connections. It was only after using it for several weeks that I found that, while it is an innovative and interesting product, Qnext may not be the best application for simple personal instant messaging.

That is mainly due to the fact that the ability to monitor several public IM services at once is actually not its main purpose. Qnext is a Java-based P2P network with its own instant messaging network, group text chats, VoIP, and voice conferencing, among others, Like other P2P services, it creates "Zones" on the user's hard drive where files -- audio, images, etc. -- can be shared among the user's IM buddies. There is even a remote access service called QnextMyPC that allows users to remotely access applications from their PCs, or share those applications with guest users.

Perhaps because Qnext's developers are more focused on its P2P services than its universal messaging system, there are some IM amenities that aren't yet included. For example, although the interface supports skins, when I went to the download area, none were available. That's pretty unusual in a consumer product that is already in its second version. In addition, while there is a placeholder for the identification icon that many IMers use to personalize their interface, it is still not enabled.

More seriously, at least for my purposes, while an incoming message will be signaled by an audio tone and a flashing icon in the taskbar, the message window doesn't automatically pop up on the desktop. This means that there is a time lag between the moment I click on the icon to the moment when the window comes up -- and an increased possibility that I won't even be aware that a message is coming in.Finally, Qnext can be a serious memory hog, especially if you're only using it for simple IM tasks. For example, on my system, it took up almost 29MB of memory, while Trillian used a little over 4MB.


Because of my difficulties with Qnext, I jumped at the chance to try the new release of Cerulean Studios' Trillian (version 3.1) when it was announced .

I'm glad I did. The latest version seems to have solved the configuration problems that I experienced previously -- on installation, Trillian searched my hard drive for installed IM services, and configured itself without a hitch.

Trillian is highly configurableClick to Enlarge

The app has also added a simpler, more professional interface, along with a variety of user-friendly features. The new version solves one of the biggest problems of the older, which merged all the contacts from whatever services you subscribed to. That meant that you couldn't be sure whether a contact was coming to you through MSN or AIM. In the new version, the main contact window indicates which contact is from which service by use of color icons, which simplified and clarified my IM communications.

The interface is highly configurable. For example, if you don't like the default organization of your contacts, you can add folders, hide your offline contacts, show or hide your personal icon -- it's quite flexible. You can use tabbed pages for additional organization, and there is also a wide array of skins (a result of Trillian's previous incarnations), and a number of add-on applets that do things like add a weather report to the interface (in the same way that Firefox uses extensions).

More importantly, you can tweak Trillian's notification features to respond to a wide number of events -- or not respond, if you wish. For example, I was able to adjust the application so that it would not bother me with responses every time somebody signed on or off, but would pop up a window and give an audio alarm when I received a message. It was unfortunately not easy to find where to make these changes -- I finally found it by going to Advanced Preferences/Automation, which isn't where I'd initially look for it. That means that novices may have a bit of problem with the interface, but the level of customization is impressive nonetheless.

If you want to pay for the privilege, you can opt for Trillian Pro ($25), which offers support for Jabber, Novell GroupWise Messenger, and Rendezvous; a variety of video chat options; additional options for viewing message history; and other features.

The only real problem I had with Trillian was that the help documentation wasn't yet ready for the latest version, which meant that I foundered somewhat when trying to tweak the features.One word of warning: Keep in mind that when AOL or Microsoft or Yahoo tweaks their messaging protocols, there could be a problem until Qnext or Trillian's engineers send out a fix, which can take a few days. So it's wise to keep your native clients around.

P2P has a lot of proponents, and for them, Qnext should be an excellent application to try. However, if you're simply looking for a way to integrate several IM services into one interface -- or trying to avoid the omnipresent advertising -- then I recommend Trillian 3.1.

Barbara Krasnoff is editor of Desktop Pipeline.

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