Pay-Per-IM is Here

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Cross-network instant messaging client Trillian has dipped its toes into the premium market with the new Trillian Pro version, the first time a consumer-focused IM application will require an annual subscription.

As first reported by internetnews.com, Trillian Pro adds premium features like SMS and mobile messaging capabilities, pop-up e-mail alerts and plug-ins to shuttle news, weather and stock quotes directly to buddy lists.

Cerulean Studios, the two-man shop that created the Trillian software, has tacked on a $25 fee for use of the premium version, styling it as a one-time fee but users must pony up $25 annually to get technical support and upgrades.

"Trillian Pro itself is not a subscription service. When you buy it, you own it. However, as part of the $25, we will provide dedicated e-mail support and free upgrades for one year. If, at the end of the year, you decide you want to keep getting upgrades and support, you need to pay again," the company said in its announcement.

As expected, the premium version also includes plug-ins for a mini-browser, for pop3 mail account alerts and one that delivers news headlines powered by XML-based rdf feeds.

The spiffy new features, which has the potential be a hit among Trillian fans, brings the concept of marketing via instant messaging to another level. But analysts are cautioning that any rogue client that isn't sanctioned by the Big Three - America Online's AIM and ICQ, Microsoft's MSN Messenger and Yahoo's YIM -- will have problems gaining critical mass in a premium environment.

America Online has already frowned on Trillian connecting to its public networks and has blocked connectivity for Trillian users in the past, citing security concerns. If the media giant continues to play hardball, Trillian could find themselves with an angry paying customer base.

Because Trillian strips away the advertisements embedded in the public IM platforms, some argue that AOL, MSN or YIM all have a strong case to block its use. Yahoo, for instance, is primarily an ad-dependent firm and because Trillian gets rid of its ads while serving its customer base, it is a safe bet that Yahoo won't be too pleased with the product.

"The fact is that AOL-dependent users will face a difficult time staying together with any non AOL sanctioned client," said Michael Gartenberg, a Jupiterresearch analyst.

Gartenberg, who tracks the instant messaging space, described the new Trillian Pro as "feature rich and deep" but he believed it would appeal primarily to consumers and enthusiasts looking to consolidate IM accounts into a single application.

"Most corporations that deploy IM will need features beyond a rich client that are network and server specific. They want to set up secure and private IM networks that are not dependent on Public infrastructures," Gartenberg said, expressing reservations about Trillian's potential as an enterprise-focused product.

"Enterprises are often hesitant to place bets on mission critical applications with smaller companies that might not survive long term," he added.

Trillian, which competes with Jabber, Odigo and Imici to provide IM interoperability platforms, has enjoyed heady growth among consumers recently, according Jupiterresearch. Trillian appeared for the first time in February 2002 in firm's Internet audience ratings with 344,000 unique users and has grown 77 percent to 610,000 as of April 2002.

Cerulean Studios principals could not be reached to discuss projections for the paid version of the software but judging from recent statements from founder Scott Werndorfer, it is clear Trillian will eventually attempt to target the enterprise market.

In a recent interview with InstantMessagingPlanet, Werndorfer an enterprise IM product from Cerulean was a "very strong possibility for us."

"We believe that Trillian is a really good product for enterprise IM. It follows that if it is a good stopgap for a company's employees, it might make a really damn good enterprise IM system as well...If it makes sense for us to build it and say, 'Hey, if you like it, you can buy it, we'll support it, you'll get a really cool client with it, etc. etc.,' then that's a possibility for us," Werndorfer said just three months ago.

Now that it is launched, Werndorfer's site is in full sales mode, touting Trillian Pro v1.0 as a client "packed with over 100 compelling new features and fixes."

Trillian is hawking the brand-new plugin system that extends on the basic functions offered in the Trillian 0.74 version, which remains free. The company highlighted an enhanced Yahoo medium that enables conferences and video (webcam) capabilities, a revamped Connection Manager that lets users manage individual accounts and MetaContacts that clean up contact lists.

"The souped-up System Tray Alert window, which fades in and out on the bottom-right of your screen like magic, provides instant information of who's going online, details of the latest news headlines, or even which song you are playing right now. Also worth mention is the significantly enhanced Contact List that now allows you to drag-and-drop between online and offline folders, a Trillian MiniBrowser that lets you view AIM HTML Profiles, and a new simplified SkinXML/Stixe format that will let everyone skin Trillian Pro easily," the company said.

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