The official blog on Trillian development.

Convenience And Convergence.

By now, those of you currently involved in our alpha program have probably had the opportunity to play around with our web-based IM offering over at http://www.trillianastra.com. The point of this product is to provide useful IM access to Trillian users that aren’t at their main PC without the bulk of carrying around a USB key or, even worse, re-downloading Trillian wherever they go. There are, however, some obvious flaws in web-based applications:

  • The web application is stuck inside the browser. We love our web browser, but when you stuff an application inside of it you tend to lose more functionality than you think. Most people make this sacrifice because the convenience of the web app outweighs the functionality loss – your system tray and task bar notifications, the ability to minimize an application without minimizing 15 others, the ability to use aesthetically pleasing skins and skinned windows without the bulk of a browser frame, etc.
  • Web products do not necessarily integrate well with their host operating system. Trillian supports a plugin archtecture that lets you do all sorts of whacky things: track your music, invoke text-to-speech frontends, display your CPU utilization and speed, and more. We can also log your conversations directly to the hard drive, expose an XML-based skinning language that supports per-pixel transparency, layered windows, borderless windows, and in general take full advantage of OS-specific rendering features, natively. Although many of these graphical goodies are available on the web, they are typically constrained by the browser window. This is no fun.

We are therefore proud to present our first crack at solving some of these problems, with what we’re currently referring to as our “OS Layer” technology. Take a look below and let us know what you think – we’d love to hear your feedback, comments and suggestions! This is still internal technology (not a part of our alpha program) but we want to be sure we’re heading down the right road before giving it too many cycles. :)



Some technical information:

  • This is not powered by Adobe Apollo technology. While we have heard more and more about Apollo in recent weeks, it has not been made available to us and we have never tried it. We work long and devoted hours in a small office building in Brookfield, CT; not being piped into the Silicon Valley hype machine does have its disadvantages, we suppose, but it only makes us work harder! This is all technology developed here at Cerulean Studios.
  • This technology, like Trillian Astra Web before it, requires Flash 9.
  • This is the real deal – with it, we can access the system tray, task bar, the local filesystem, dock the contact list, etc. The goal of this project is to emulate 99% of common Trillian functionality in something incredibly lightweight and easy to grab on-the-go. While we won’t likely be doing anything incredibly advanced here (that’s what Trillian “regular” is for), we will strive to do enough to make it worth your while.
  • This is currently internal technology and not available yet to anyone. It will be made available to our team of testers as soon as its ready, but at this point your feedback and suggestions would be great!

Lastly, build 36 is now available for testers.

80 Responses to “Convenience And Convergence.”
  1. sabret00the Says:

    how many builds are you __expecting__ to put out before you go live?

  2. EnergyGod Says:

    come on sabret00the, they don’t know the answer to that. It is “as many as it takes”

    Thanks for the update guys! Running great already.

  3. CSalvarani3 Says:

    wow… that’s some hot stuff. How you managed to do all that within the browser using only flash is beyond me.

  4. Hyter Says:

    Don’t be saying hopefully. You have let us taste heaven, you must release this feature at some point.

  5. tourbi Says:

    Looks good. I like the presentation and the idea of it. I would like using when I’m on other’s computers.

  6. halcyoncmdr Says:

    OMG how do you do that!?

    Can’t wait ’til this is released to us testers… *drool*

  7. EnergyGod Says:

    Hyter … not if it doesn’t work!

  8. Codplay Says:

    Sweeeeeeeeeeeeet! Looks awesome guys!
    Oh how I wish as many online applications had that functionality. That is BRILLIANT.
    Are you going down the right road? HECK YES!

  9. tourbi Says:

    Hyter, I think it’s exciting too. I can hardly wait to test it also.
    Great ideas, reasons to be excited.

    Kevin, thanks for sharing. I hope it works out that you all will be able to release it for testing.

  10. nova Says:

    This looks great, the two important things to me would be if it can be used with a full copy of trillian in use at the same time. For example I leave trillian open on my main computer 24/7 and remote desktop in most of the time to use it. It would be great if when i used the mobile version instead of having to rdesktop it could still log things to the desktop client (primarily its my replies which wouldn’t be logged without some magic).

    It looks amazing and the instant trillian anywhere is nice. Also does this proxy our IM sessions or will the login info be downloaded locally too?

  11. AshTR Says:

    Grr…Why do you torture us non-testers?

  12. EnergyGod Says:

    AshTR … this is a tease to all :) It is not even part of the alpha test yet. It is really cool though.

  13. agraham208 Says:

    I think that it uses Java. And since JAVA is open-platform, as long as you have it installed, then you are good to go. That is the only way I can see this thing accessing local filesystems, and the system tray. I can see the Windows VISTA security alerts now :-/ Cant wait CS! All we need now is a price and a link :-) .

  14. mark2000 Says:

    I can’t believe you guys are using a Mac and yet not supporting the platform. What’s up with that?

  15. Pensador Says:

    This does looks great. I saw that you had no other application open except for Firefox. Would it be as smooth of an experience if I were, say, listening to my favourite music, typing a paper while chatting with my friends? I hope the final product will not have a large footprint because as a result of being “inside” the web browser. It is very important tog me–and I am sure to a lot of other users–to have a very lightweight and responsive IM client.

  16. EnergyGod Says:

    Music players and word don’t use very much RAM … it will really all depend how much you have installed … it always boils down to that.

  17. EnergyGod Says:

    And if you were using this on your own computer, you would obviously just use the normal Astra … this is for when your online on a different computer.

  18. fabieuse Says:

    i would like to know if (and how) that thing works on other operating systems like mac os and linux. it seems to be tied a lot to windows with all that system tray and task bar stuff.

  19. Voider Says:

    Sorry, just a question from a non-tester as offtopic… Does Astra (or will Astra) have server-sided history archive? Will the user be able to save his history on Astra Server? I’m interested mostly in archiving ICQ conversations, not Astra chat.

  20. robhardman Says:

    Wow. Develop it! I agree with agraham208, it must be Java, surely?

    Either that, or a very early April Fool ;)

  21. rollingpine Says:

    Looks great!
    One of my favorite and most widely used features of Trillian Pro is the conversation-logging. Perhaps the web-browser version could store a small amount of conversation history (a few day’s worth, depending on how often you IM each day). And then have that small bit dumped onto your hard drive each time you log into you own application.
    Or, if server space isn’t a problem, then they could both synchronize, which would allow users to do full archival searches, even from Astra-online.
    I’m sure you guys have looked at all these possibilities already. I just thought I’d throw it out there anyway.
    Keep up the good work!

  22. obi-wahn Says:

    YouTube is very slow… I looking forward for the end of the video, the text sounds good.

  23. smw Says:

    A few responses:

    - It’s not Java.
    - That’s not a Mac, it’s an Apple monitor hooked into a Windows laptop. :)
    - In theory we should be able to do the same thing on Linux/Mac, but we haven’t tried yet.
    - We agree that the feature would be much better with some form of synchronized logging with your desktop, and are currently running with the assumption that we’d need to figure this out before launching it.

  24. Voider Says:

    What about giving each astra-user a small about of space (5-10Mb) for keeping zipped conversation logs? So (optionally) each Astra (no matter, desktop or web) at the end of each conversation would keep zipped version on server, and history dialog on opening would fetch list of conversations… This way user will have synchronized history in several places. Could you think of such feature?

  25. Y314K Says:

    Looks great… U guyz are gonna blow IM’s out of the water with T4…

    I still have just one ?… That I haven’t been able to find an answer for…

    Will IRC be part of the family of services… And if it is… How complete will IRC be… Specially for OP’s parts etc…???

  26. seph Says:

    I’m very sure that you could have said the same thing without a video, and made just as big of an impact. Or, at the very least, you could have used 15 seconds of video to get the same point across…

  27. EnergyGod Says:

    Sounds great Scott. Syncronization will really boost the web interface’s potentional.

    voider – not yet, but maybe … we can hope (for all mediums, not just ICQ) :)

    obi-wahn – YouTube has always been just fine, your internet connection probably sucks.

    seph – that comment is rediculous, you just felt the need to complain. They want to give a 3 minute video, thats great, you don’t want to watch it, fine … but don’t slam them for giving their users what they want (communication).

  28. seph Says:

    Slam? Just giving my opinion. Take it or leave it.

  29. dzjepp Says:

    That looks sweet. I remember using icq lite a while back, it worked in a similar fasion, but of course it had a very basic skin and if I remember, it would close if the browser was closed (it used java I think).

  30. Trillian Eyes Meebo with an Online Messenger - CyberNet News Says:

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  31. YankeesRule Says:

    Wow that is pretty awesome.. as a web developer, I’m trying to figure out how they do that now… I may need to get a job with them just to answer that lol. By the way.. kind of a cool idea, if it would be possible, would be a Vista Sidebar version of Trillian… since thats based on Javascript, it should be possible using AJAX… asking for 3 versions of a program may be a bit much, but just throwing it out there =)

  32. nova Says:

    Yea the synced log files could be done server side, to keep costs down(or add another subscription feature) maybe only avaliable to those with active pro subscriptions? Normal users could obviously still use it, just convos wouldnt be synced to their desktop through the trillian servers.

  33. Trillian Astra’s Awesomeness, Google TV Ads, Mockatoo, S! Town Says:

    [...] Trillian Astra – The awesomeness of Trillian Astra’s upcoming release cannot be denied. We originally thought that the desktop instant messaging service was only building a Meebo rival – interesting, but not mind blowing. This week, however, they put out a video (below) that shows some unprecedented functionality. You launch the IM client from the web, but you can then close the web browser and leave the IM client open – no need for downloads, either. So instead of a Meebo-like service that needs to run in a browser or pop-up, Trillian Astra will offer the standalone quality of an IM client combined with the ability to use it on any machine without installation. I’ve no idea how they worked this magic, but I can’t wait for other web-based apps to do similar things – imagine the possibilities. (via) [...]

  34. DvNT Says:

    Great – that’s looks much more useable than being trapped in a web browser! That should expand the use of Trillian. Also thanks for the vid cast too :)

  35. maunic Says:

    nova – that is a good idea, I agree with that.

  36. Anteprima di Trillian Astra, il messenger che esce dal browser Says:

    [...] versione di Trillian Astra attualmente in fase di sviluppo, potrebbe cambiare tutto questo: in pratica permetterà di “staccare” il messenger dalla pagina web [...]

  37. Ryan Stewart - Rich Internet Application Mountaineer » The New Version of Trillian is a Flash Application with Apollo-like Functionality Says:

    [...] school boy right now after reading about Astra, Trillian’s new client over on Webware and the Trillian Blog. The new client is built on Flash, and there is a web client, but there is also a desktop client [...]

  38. SoWhy Says:

    THat looks like a great idea…want want want!!!^^

  39. Trillian Going after Meebo » Solo Technology Says:

    [...] this blog post from Cerulean Studios. In particular: Some technical [...]

  40. xpankrat Says:

    This is indeed interesting and impressive.

    BUT

    If Astra can do this, what would prevent a phishing / malware applications from utilizing the same functionality ? I.e. display native OS windows, touch the system tray, etc.

    It would be really interesting to see if it is in fact Java or Flash based and/or if it is based on some hacky exploit that is waiting to be fixed. Because otherwise it may be an preview of the next generation of malware behavior.

  41. smw Says:

    More information, as we’ve been reading some speculation otherwise:

    The current focus of the technology is to rip application-quality web software *out* of the browser and *on* to the desktop. It is (currently) technically impossible (for security reasons, at the very least) to magically invoke a real application on your desktop without a download of any sorts; the current demo you’re watching is using a small Firefox plugin to do its dirty work. The actual IM product is still the same web-based Flash that you’re invoking from your web browser. In a way, you can just think of this as a mini web browser (very mini :) ).

  42. xpankrat Says:

    Clever :)

  43. agraham208 Says:

    If it is using Flash and JavaScript, is it really escaping the browser, or is it just resizing the window and hiding the title bar?

  44. powaking Says:

    BAD ASS. (ahem, still waiting for invite, ahem)

  45. robhardman Says:

    It’s difficult to see how it would manage to truly “escape” onto the local OS without being trusted, when running in IE. Especially when running under low rights IE7 on Vista (I notice Firefox on XP is featured in the video). ActiveX might not be enough to “break out” – I’m not sure.

    I still think it’s well worth developing – hell, if they can pull it off then fair play to them, but on Vista I can see potentially “elevation” warnings from UAC on first run (if installer based) or every time (if runtime based), and that would increase the hassle factor for the end user, especially if they aren’t local admins (enter admin credentials now etc).

    I still love the concept though. :)

  46. maunic Says:

    I think some of you fail to realize that “smw” is one of the head developers. So when he says its not Java … that means it is NOT Java and you can give up on it. And when he says it is Flash, that means it IS Flash, and you can stop doubting it.

    I want to know if they intend to only make this for Firefox though? It seemed to me the point of a webversion is that you can use it anywhere. I certainly don’t think you can just randomly install Firefox AND EXTENSIONS anywhere you feel like.

    Sure Firefox might be the most popular HOME browser of techy Trillian users, but I bet there are at least a handful of you that don’t … not to mention all the corporate setups that don’t allow other browser installations. Then there are schools and other public computers which most certainly could not be equiped with Firefox AND the necessary permissions to add extensions to it.

    It really is a neat idea, I just am sad to hear it is based on an extension for a minority browser.

  47. smw Says:

    maunic – the *current* demo is using Firefox. This does not have anything to do with the final product, and we will of course strive to support all browsers.

  48. RobbieG Says:

    This is very exciting! I hope I am able to help test this once it is available.

  49. maunic Says:

    smw – great, just what I wanted to hear.

  50. Daniel Says:

    Guys, I’m sure you know you are playing with fire here. If you create a ‘hook’ (either a Firefox plug-in or an activeX control) that let’s you cross the security boundary around the browser, you have a whole host of problems.

    The main issue is whether corporate users with controlled local environments will be able to install the add-in at all. If you find a way to circumvent the corporate controls, they will not be happy, and if you abide those rules, those users can’t use your system. This is why a pure Web solution is attractive.

    On the other hand if you do go with a plug-in or control that let’s you cross the browser boundary you need a solid way to prevent other Browser apps from using that channel. Even if you have a good isolation method, that does not mean you won’t be able to prevent hackers from abusing it. You also have to convince users that downloading such a plug-in is worth the risk. I will grant you that most people don’t seem to be worried about the potential security issues with plug-ins. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s not an issue, or if it’s just below the radar.

    smw – do you guys have a way to ensure that the only your Flash App can access the plug-in? How does that work?

  51. silver Says:

    I used to be a alpha tester for v3 of trillian, I’ve been a pro user since day 1 give or take, I would really love to test this product, yet my appliaction for astra go unreplied :(

  52. The_Gentleman Says:

    Great job! Hope to be able to use it at university.

  53. maunic Says:

    Daniel … I am sure the current web version will probably still be available to those that will be unable to utilize this *future* version due to security restrictions. Because of that I highly doubt they will do anything that circumvents corporate controls. In other words, if your security won’t let you use it, you will have to use the “pre web” versions.

    Either way I highly doubt they are going to release this kind of technical information, especially the question of how the plugin works only with their flash application this early into the private internal development of it. Who knows, later it might not even involve a firefox plugin as Scott has already said that is just how they are doing it *now*.

  54. Trillian Astra Web - Bringing Web Apps To The Desktop - BigBlueBall Forums Says:

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  55. timdorr Says:

    So, it’s a small XUL application wrapper around the Flash product? Can we assume this is Firefox-only for the conceivable future?

  56. Marchudichu Says:

    Got a question here: will astra be released for free or as a paid software?

  57. maunic Says:

    timdorr … please read all responses, Scott directly says:

    “the *current* demo is using Firefox. This does not have anything to do with the final product, and we will of course strive to support all browsers.”

  58. costan Says:

    Unconventional bug report

    Hey guys. I’m one of the “unofficial” testers. I noticed that the Jabber plug-in in Astra (build 36) gets disconnected if you have something and having someone at the other end confirm that “something” shows up in bold and there’s no markup.

  59. Drive:Activated : Blurring the lines between the browser and the desktop Says:

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  60. Whispers to the Deaf » This is good stuff Says:

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  61. Web Worker Daily » Blog Archive Six Tools for the Post-Email Era « Says:

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  62. maunic Says:

    Unofficial as in you pirated it and you are using the blog to post your bugs? :-/

  63. Voider Says:

    What’s so bad about posting bugs from pirated versions? They are still bugs, so we pirates:) are still trying to help developers, having no other options being not allowed to take part in alpha testing… May be one day I’ll buy a full and working version of Astra:)

  64. maunic Says:

    I just think they should cancel your account here for that… thats all :)

  65. kyleabaker Says:

    I love the originality and how smoothly it appears to integrate with the system! Just a couple concerns tho..mainly about the browser requirements. I’m a hugh Opera browser fan and am aware that Opera is constantly left out of some of the “major” new web apps on the net, but it is a growing community and I’d love to see this new web based version compatible with Opera as well! If it ends up working smoothly then hoenstly..I will probably use it more than the executable! Also, I see that it is tested in firefox on the video and the notes slightly detail the use a a rough plugin, so this means that it’s not working yet in IE either!? Like I said..I love the idea completely, but from a compatibility point of view (which should be your main concern with this web based project!) I just feel that the method used to implement this should be easily compateable with any “up to standards” or up-to-date browser. That way the mac users can use safari with no special/unique safari plugin and the ff users can use it with no firefox specific plugin and etc for IE and Opera and all other browsers! Making several different plugins for different browsers mgiht complicate matters worse in the future. Having a commonly compatible way of getting the contact list and im windows out of the browser is the best way to go in my opinion. Sorry that I don’t have any suggestions of how to do this, haha, just brain storming my thoughts and opinions! You know, usual feedback stuff! Looks great so far tho! Can wait til astra is released to the public! (me, hehe)

  66. basicguru Says:

    well here’s the truth…I pirate it too….and found a couple of bugs….but does Trillian open the beta to those of us who would actually help out? No. Instead they let in lots of people who will never contribute a bug.

  67. Flexing it...More Seriously « A rake thinks… Says:

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  68. maunic Says:

    basicguru — you know, I am sure you are right about at least a few people, but there are a lot of them that do, and that is just a fact that will happen anytime you let people “sign up” for a public ALPHA (it is not beta).

  69. Daniel Says:

    2 Key Announcements – Google Talk & Adobe Apollo

    1) Google announced it will let you have in-page IM with a Google Talk plug-in.

    2) Adobe introduced Apollo, a web/desktop hybrid environment that allows web apps to be used offline like desktop apps. This is the way to do the browser to desktop crossover if you want support and safety from obsolesence due to MSFT changing the rules of the game later on. MSFT has to support Flash.

    Cerulean was probably an Adobe Apollo alpha tester.

  70. clonny2 Says:

    Actually, the top of the page says it is specifically not Adobe Apollo.

    This is not powered by Adobe Apollo technology. While we have heard more and more about Apollo in recent weeks, it has not been made available to us and we have never tried it. We work long and devoted hours in a small office building in Brookfield, CT; not being piped into the Silicon Valley hype machine does have its disadvantages, we suppose, but it only makes us work harder! This is all technology developed here at Cerulean Studios.

  71. nvazn Says:

    Will Astra support the Skype client?

  72. maunic Says:

    nvazn: Nobody has reverse engineered Skype yet (rumor that the chinese did, but no proof) and therefore there will NEVER be a plugin for Skype. There is currently one that remote controls Skype, but even that is unlikely to be updated to Astra anytime soon.

  73. Morris DigitalWorks Extreme Lab Blog » Blog Archive » Trillian Astra Says:

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  74. frostbyte Says:

    Excellent. Can’t wait for the release.

  75. > n3wjack’s blog » Blog Archive » astra trillian is making geeks drool Says:

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