ThinkFree Online joins Web Office sweepstakes

Summary:After Google bought Writely, as if it legitimized the notion of a Web-based Office, the blogosphere is speculating about Google Office (there already is a GOffice from a small startup) and who will disrupt the Microsoft Office empire (see Richard MacManus' post on the Web Office). While I was at PC Forum, I got a preview of ThinkFree's new online Office suite from company CEO TJ Kang.

After Google bought Writely, as if it legitimized the notion of a Web-based Office, the blogosphere is speculating about Google Office (there already is a GOffice from a small startup) and who will disrupt the Microsoft Office empire (see Richard MacManus' post on the Web Office). While I was at PC Forum, I got a preview of ThinkFree's new online Office suite from company CEO TJ Kang. His company has first shipped a Java-based, ad-supported online Office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation) in 2000, but was too early to market--not enough bandwidth, DHTML/AJAX was slow and heavy and difficult to get right across different browsers. ThinkFree also has an offline version, with about 50,000 users, Kang said, but now is ready to fire up a new version designed with AJAX and mashups, such as grabbing Flickr photos. The suite requires an initial download of Java applets, which it caches on the users' system after the initial launch. It that sense the browser-based applications are a kind of hybrid. ThinkFree allows for 30 megabytes of storage, which can be increased for a fee. It also integrates with the popular blogging platforms, so you can post entries from ThinkFree with a click.

thinkfree.jpg

One of ThinkFree's specialties is support for Microsoft document formats and replicating the look and feel of Microsoft applications. I imported several MS Office documents in the beta version and didn't notice any rendering errors. Kang said that he plans to provide a ThinkFree API that will allow other applications to view Microsoft documents. For example, you could embed a PowerPoint presentation in a blog page and view the contents. The suite can also can save to PDF--no Open Document Format yet. ThinkFree Online is free, ad-supported, and will be available the first week in April, Kang said. ThinkFree has about 50 engineers working on the product, and is part of Hansoft, Korea's largest software company. Of course, I did manage to crash the beta version, and you are at the mercy of whatever network you are on.

Unlike Writely and other Web 2.0 'productivity' applications, ThinkFree is designed as a rich alternative to MS Office, and an online, access from anywhere alternative to OpenOffice.org. It's not clear that simply duplicating or extending the huge feature set Microsoft has engineered over the last few decades is what will really attract users in the next decade. Sometimes, less is really more...

Topics: Microsoft

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