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Hands-on with Trillian Astra [UPDATED]

We get our grubby mitts on the next generation of Trillian, named "Astra."

Trillian Astra is the next generation of Trillian, the popular multi-account instant messenger from Cerulean Studios. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the alpha build of Astra this morning and muck around with some of its new functionality. The alpha build lacked some of the new features being pitched on the Astra preview site.

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Astra is pretty. Really pretty. The new default skin called 'Cordonata' has that slick plastic look you'd find on Mac OS X or Windows Vista. It's also functional, taking up no more onscreen space than the current version of Trillian does. Message windows also seem better designed to handle tabs, and have a larger, more user-friendly design. Options for sending files and setting up conferences are at the bottom of message windows instead of the top, cutting down on clutter. You're also given a news ticker of sorts, which monitors your conversation and brings up content based on what you're talking about with your buddies. While talking with a friend of mine about his Nintendo DS, it brought up a news clipping for CNET's coverage of StumbleUpon's Wii viewer. This was a little creepy.

New to Astra are widgets, which can be added to a customized status bar that can be embedded into forums, Web sites and e-mails. Widgets are created by community developers and provide things like local weather information, mood, and pictures from Flickr. You can see examples of this at Cerulean's forums.

Also cool, but unfortunately not working well enough for me to fully test was the Astra Web interface, where you can login from any Web browser to chat with your buddies. As with Meebo, the interface looks like a desktop application.

A neat addition to Astra is the new framework given to designers for creating advanced skins. While the default theme is slick and good looking, choice is a good thing. Also tweaked is the ability to change skins without having to restart the app.

Trillian Astra also includes plug-ins for newer IM networks such as MySpace and Google Talk. (You could use Google Talk before, but you had to download the Jabber plug-in and edit the settings.) Likewise, to IM via MySpace required a software download and install. Adding both of these protocols to the core client is great.

No news on a solid launch date for Astra. In the meantime, if you want to sign-up for Astra testing, click here.

Have any questions about Astra? Ask in comments, and we'll try to answer.

Update: This post has been changed since its original publish. Corrections were made regarding widgets and chat feeds.