Office (online beta)
Reviewed by: Howard Carson, November 2006
Published by: ThinkFree Corp.
4 CPU, 512MB RAM, 1GB free hard disk space, any supported
operating system including Microsoft Windows 98 through
XP & Vista (RC2), Redhat Linux 9 or later, Fedora Core
3 or later, Mac OS X; latest version of Java Runtime
Environment (JRE) is required for all compatible operating
ThinkFree Office 3 is a web based, server hosted, cross platform office suite of programs designed to let you create and share office documents online as well as edit uploaded Word, Excel and PowerPoint files of all kinds created with Microsoft Office. ThinkFree Office looks, feels and behaves just like Microsoft Office and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. Imitation is often either a direct challenge or some form of flattery, so I'm definitely eager to see how Microsoft responds to this latest assault on its pre-eminence in the office software suite 'wars'. That ThinkFree Office declares that it "looks, feels and behaves" just like the three, core, Microsoft Office programs is simultaneously unsettling and interesting.
cares about any of that. ThinkFree Office is free. No money.
That's, like, nothing. You might ask how good it can be
when its direct competition, Microsoft Works 2006 replete
with a massive feature and function set (as well as the
Encarta encyclopedia, mapping software and a full calendar
utility) is available for only $99.95. We've already seen
Google's free online office suite effort with its Writely
and Google Sheet offerings, neither of which should be
ignored. The point of this review is to find out where
ThinkFree Office is positioned and whether or not you should
bother with it. ThinkFree Office is available in the online
version we're reviewing here, as a desktop product for
Windows/Mac/Linux, in a server edition, and ThinkFree Office
Show is available in an iPod version.
ThinkFree Office is composed of three main components: Write—the word processor, Calc—the spreadsheet, and Show—the presentation program. These core products appear to be most in demand by the majority of office software users. Of course your mileage may vary, so if you truly need clones of Access, InfoPath, Outlook, OneNote and Publisher (as found in Microsoft Office Pro), look elsewhere. If you need the calendar, mapping software and Encarta encyclopedia along with word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software in Microsoft Works 2006, well, you just need to spend $99 on Works 2006. Just do yourself a favor and define your needs clearly before you turn away, keeping in mind that the main strength of ThinkFree Office is that it's web based.
ThinkFree Office provides an important selection of utilities
including Speller (for spell checking), a large Clipart
library, and a Help Viewer. The files you create are stored
online on a secure, private, backed up data storage array.
Kickstartnews contributing reviewer Mark Goldstein and
I reviewed ThinkFree Office through high speed DSL, high
speed cable and half-speed ISDN lines. ThinkFree Office
worked identically well in all the Windows, Mac and Linux
browsers we tried including Internet Explorer 6, Internet
Explorer 7, Firefox 1.5.8 (Windows, Mac and Linux), Opera
9 (Windows and Mac), Safari 2.0.4 (Mac only), and Konqueror
(Linux only). Basically, ThinkFree Office works in everything
as long as Java is enabled. You'll find Java on/off controls
in the Options menu or dialog in the browser of your choice.
initial impression of ThinkFree Office is slightly uncomfortable.
It looks so much like Microsoft Office—with
menus, fields, controls, features and functions in almost
identical positions—that it's hard to believe it
wasn't developed by Microsoft. Nevertheless, the similarities
help you get into it immediately. As long as you have a
reasonably fast network or internet connection, you won't
notice much of a difference in speed either. Typing in
Write is pleasantly responsive, entering formulas and data
in Calc is quick, and Show operates at essentially the
same speed as PowerPoint.
You'll find slight lags when you use your mouse to click
on certain functions and controls. In Show, for example,
there's a distinct 1-2 second response delay when changing
between the Outline and Slide tabs. File loading from your
ThinkFree home page is also a bit pokey mainly because
everything you create online is stored on a secure server
which has to decrypt the file you asked for and then load
it into the viewing or editing window. There is a small
speed trade-off, no question about it, but it's a gap which
is going to narrow quite a bit more as network speeds,
internet access speeds, the 'net itself and browsers get
faster and faster. We noticed a distinct slowdown when
we were on the half-ISDN line, and while ThinkFree was
still usable, the experience wasn't pleasant. Take this
one off your list if your internet access is half-ISDN
or slower (54Mbps modem, dial-up internet of any kind).
The list of features and functions in Write, Calc and
Show is very long. As far as I can tell after a couple
of months of regular use, ThinkFree Office fully accommodates
all of the formatting and document creation needs I normally
expect and require. That covers, financial spreadsheets,
data comparison spreadsheets, memos, correspondence, faxes,
research documents, basic marketing collateral, training
presentations, product presentations and research data
presentations. Not bad for a free online office suite that
makes your files available to you anywhere in the world
as long as you can access an internet connection through
a java-enabled browser.
The features which stand out during day-to-day use include
printing directly from the online application menu, a Save
As PDF command in the File menu, publishing directly to
the blog of your choice, read only and read/write file
sharing via e-mail, and the fact that you can access a
document in ThinkFree anywhere you've got a browser and
internet access. There's also a Publish feature which has
nothing to do with desktop/network printing or your own
blog, but rather publishes a selected document on the ThinkFree
public blog. I got a nasty surprise when I inadvertently
published a test document containing some rather 'choice'
language. Luckily, deleting the original document from
your ThinkFree file list also deletes the item from the
public blog. Interestingly, you have an opportunity to
attach a usage license to a published document (mostly
Creative Commons variants, but there's an All Rights Reserved
selection as well). The Save As PDF command does not require
an Acrobat installation on your computer, so you're getting
a good quality Adobe PDF document creator for free as well.
What's the catch? Frankly, and all conjecture aside, there's
no real catch that we can detect right now. Mark noted
that the advertising positioned next to the document page
while you're using ThinkFree is quite obvious. He's right,
but we both found that the static ads did not actually
distract us from getting anything done. The only issue
that might be considered a catch is the fact that ThinkFree
Office is still being touted as a beta. For the record,
we doubt that anyone will lose any files of any kind, and
ThinkFree Corp appears to be taking this concern very seriously.
On the other hand, smart users will always make their own
backups, and the ubiquity of CD/DVD burners makes backups
awfully easy to do even when traveling. Accidents happen,
so we say be smart. If you've got a gmail account with
all its attendant free storage space, why not simply send
yourself all your ThinkFree documents?
you're wondering how a relative newcomer like ThinkFree
Office is fairing against Microsoft Office, you don't
have to look far. A comparatively tiny number of people
are using ThinkFree Office. The product should actually
have a relatively broad appeal, and those who use it
should enjoy both its functionality and the stability
of the online environment in which it operates. Microsoft
is fully aware of ThinkFree's presence, but has little
to fear at this point in particular because the shiny
new Microsoft Office 2007 has been radically redesigned.
For people who have to access active documents while
traveling, ThinkFree represents something that Microsoft
just can't touch right now. Options such as GoToMyPC
and PC Anywhere require direct access to a PC that's
been appropriately set up—not the
most convenient situation, and effectively useless when
you can't get your own laptop online. The fact remains
that most hotels still don't offer universal wired or wireless
high speed internet access in every room, and if you have
to get online internet cafe-style, forget about GoToMyPC
and PC Anywhere. To get into ThinkFree Office, on the other
hand, all you need is a Java-enabled browser.
Cons: It's all free, so it's also natural to expect some
bugs (and it's still a beta product after all). You can
download any of the documents to your local hard drive
(or wherever you choose). Unfortunately, complex downloaded
Write documents don't retain much of their formatting when
loaded into Microsoft Word, so it's best to print directly
from the ThinkFree application menus while you're online.
Keep in mind that Microsoft Works, that oft derided suite
of programs, is actually an incredibly good value. If you
don't really have a need for a web based office suite but
you need to keep costs down, Works 2006 is really an amazing
Pros: No crashes, lost documents or any other anomalies
during two months of testing and use. Create complex documents,
spreadsheets and presentations using a comprehensive set
of formatting and graphics tools apparently lifted straight
out of Microsoft Office. Surprisingly speedy operation.
Document sharing is as simple as clicking a couple of commands.
You can share through an existing blog or via e-mail, or
publish to the open ThinkFree blog. Fills an important
need for online document creation. Great for many business
travelers (imagine not having to worry about hauling a
laptop to meetings, instead logging on to ThinkFree from
your client's meeting room using his computer and network).
Lots of creative possibilities and lots of solid business
possibilities. It's free. Recommended.
KSN Product Rating:
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