Trillian Astra sneak preview
Astra improves on start-up time, redrawing time (i.e. how quickly skinned elements appear and change), and memory usage. Memory leaks have also been plugged and Cerulean is building some lightweight skins with efficient memory usage in mind.
Brand new in Astra is support for MySpace IM. They've also created a separate Google Talk component (distinct from the Jabber plugin) and split the AIM and ICQ components apart. Also coming is improved file transfer compatibility, a more informative file transfer dialog, and a cool feature that zips folders on the fly for sending a bunch of files at once, and they've added support for custom MSN status messages. Under the hood, they've created an "IMCore" library that aims to make IM plugins stabler and easier to develop.
Astra comes with some features for managing all of your different accounts and making it easier for people to get ahold of you. You can now store you contracts online, allowing you to log in on a friend's computer (assuming they have Astra) and have all of your accounts and contacts load automatically. You can also "export" your contact information to contacts, kind of like an electronic business card. For better or for worse, they're also adding widgets, which can be created in Flash 9. Lastly, they're going to publish open documentation for all of this stuff so developers of other IM clients and other software can create their own features that interoperate with Astra.
Cerulean Studios is making a big web push with Astra. Users' status for all of their accounts will be displayed on the web (optionally, obviously), but the biggest news is that Astra users will be able to login with any web browser and send and receive IMs on any of their accounts. The aforementioned widgets will also be web-enabled.
They've totally revamped the message window. It now features drag-and-drop (or copy-and-paste) image sharing, pen input for tablet PC folks or just people who like to draw with the mouse, and RSS-feed-reading "knowledge bar." There's also a "buzz" feature ported from other clients which they describe as "an incredibly annoying way to quickly get [a contact's] attention." They apologize for adding the latter feature, however, and presumably it can be disabled. Finally, Astra has a "saved font styles" feature that lets you set up predefined styles e.g. "important" or "code."
The contact list, which I consider the most important part of any IM client, is getting a new "tile view" that shows buddy icons and names not unlike, say, the Windows desktop, a "Spotlight search" box (cue Apple lawsuit) for finding a particular contact among many, drag-and-drop avatar changing, and easy display name changing.
Astra is getting lots of skin improvements, including the ability to change skins without restarting Trillian (finally!), color schemes, alpha transparency (finally x2!), "variables and skin math," which sounds like very basic scripting, and layers.
When I first heard about Astra and saw the first few screenshots I was afraid that it would be a disappointment, but the new preview aptly demonstrates that there's a ton of new stuff coming for loyal Trillian users. There's no word yet on whether there will be a free version of Trillian Astra, but if you thought Trillian Pro 3.x was worth shelling out for, you may very well feel the same about Astra.
According to the official Cerulean Studios blog they're going to be opening up alpha testing much earlier than we're used to from them. No download link has appeared yet, but I assure you when I know, you'll know.