ThinkFree Office is a suite of tools that creates a niche that, at this stage, even OpenOffice 2 can’t equal. Put simply, it’s a trio of applications that you can access and load through a Web browser (it’s a Java-based suite that we tested through FireFox). Naturally that brings with it a selection of interesting pros and cons, which we’ll get round to discussing shortly.
First, though, the software itself. Once you’ve created an account at the ThinkFree site, you’re granted 30MB of storage space and the choice of ThinkFree Office Calc (spreadsheet), Write (the word processor) or Show (the presentation package). These take a little while to load over a broadband connection, but once up and running you’ll see that ThinkFree has subscribed to the golden rule of the office suite: Microsoft compatibility at all cost.
So it’s hardly surprising that the interface on these applications closely echoes the Redmond giant’s market-leading Microsoft Office, and ThinkFree has worked hard – with good results – to make its software compatible with key Microsoft file formats. The only problem is that occasionally formatting tends to get lost, and the likes of macros from Excel documents are a strict no-no.
In use, the Java roots of the software do show, meaning that response times can be a little sluggish and there will be moments when you’ll just wish the suite was that little bit nippier. It’s also frustrating at times that you can only have one document open at a time. On the plus side, there are unexpected features on top of the basics, not least support for exporting to PDFs.
At heart, ThinkFree Office isn’t one of the stronger contenders for Microsoft’s throne on the market, although its Web-based status does offer clear advantages. Certainly the convenience of pairing it with online storage isn’t to be sniffed at, and it’s surprising just how accomplished the software itself manages to be. We’d have expected a Web-accessed tool like this to be some leagues behind the opposition, and while it’s hardly got them too worried, it’s better than you’re likely to expect. And truthfully, all three of the applications here are equal to the majority of basic tasks that are likely to be thrown at them.
Should you want to use the applications offline, that’s when ThinkFree will ask you to reach for your credit card, with a $50 (around £30) charge for the installable suite and the speed benefits that go with it. Yet on the desktop it’s a no brainer, since OpenOffice 2 is a more accomplished suite with a broader selection of applications that also happens to be totally free.
In its Web-based guise though, ThinkFree might be on to something here. For while its office suite is relatively uncomplicated, it is effective, it’s useful and it is worth at least having a play with.
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