04:01 PM

Review: Improve The IM Experience

Qnext and Trillian let you monitor your instant messages without intrusive ads or four different interfaces.

Instant messaging has become a fact of life, both in the personal and professional arenas. For example, as someone who works at home, I use IM to create a virtual office environment with my colleagues, and to keep in touch with far-flung relatives.

Unfortunately, while most people use IM as a sort of universal text telephone service, the major public IM services -- America Online Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger, and ICQ -- treat it more as a set of competing operating systems. Your colleagues are on AIM? You'd better be. Your sister uses MSN? Sorry, but if you're not on MSN, you're not typing to her.

Users don't only have to put up with this ridiculous situation, but with advertising that has become increasingly more intrusive. For example, I nearly hit the ceiling once when I was concentrating on work, and was suddenly startled by a loud audio advertisement from my AIM interface. (Yes, I had my audio on too loud, but it was the unexpectedness as well as the volume that caused my adrenaline levels to suddenly shoot up.)

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.

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