ThinkFree - world's best Web Office?

ThinkFree - world's best Web Office?

Summary: Last week I spoke to TJ Kang, CEO of ThinkFree - which is "I think we are better [than] - especially with the spreadsheet and presentation" billing itself as the "World's Best Web Based Office Suite".

TOPICS: Microsoft

Last week I spoke to TJ Kang, CEO of ThinkFree - which is "I think we are better [than] - especially with the spreadsheet and presentation" billing itself as the "World's Best Web Based Office Suite". We spoke about how ThinkFree compares to other Web Office products and how ThinkFree's compatibility with Microsoft Office will (according to TJ) give them the edge. In this post, the first of two, I explore the Web Office market according to ThinkFree. In my next post I will review the actual product and see whether it lives up to its hype.

ThinkFree is at first glance an impressive Web Office system. Its online functionality is based predominantly on Java, although they are beginning to release Ajax functionality (more on that in the next post). But also ThinkFree offers a high degree of compatibility with Microsoft Office - and it's this, according to TJ Kang, that really differentiates ThinkFree from its competitors.

One of the most interesting parts of my discussion with TJ was on how ThinkFree views itself in the Web Office market. Here is a screenshot from a ThinkFree presentation:


As you can see, ThinkFree gives itself high marks for web/online functionality - i.e. collaboration, tagging, search, blogging, publishing. Thinkfree places itself first for online functionality, along with Writely. ThinkFree also gives itself high marks for office suite functionality (which essentially means the range of Office features a product has - word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, etc). Microsoft Office Live is the only product rated higher for office suite functionality, due to its natural compatibility with desktop big brother Microsoft Office.

I found it interesting that ThinkFree views itself as equivalent in office functionality to, an open source desktop product maintained by Sun Microsystems. TJ admitted this is a big call and said that OpenOffice has "a lot more features". However he said that "in terms of the compatibility offer [with MS Office], I think we are better - especially with the spreadsheet and presentation."

ThinkFree prides itself on having more functionality than the other Web Office players, but TJ told me it isn't a case of features for features sake. Rather, ThinkFree's main reason for having so much functionality is to be compatible with Microsoft Office. He said if they didn't have that level of compatibility, then MS Office users "wouldn't make the move". One of ThinkFree's goals is to ween MS Office users off the desktop and onto the Web.

Now let's look at a feature comparison between ThinkFree and its competitors:


Bearing in mind that ThinkFree produced this table and so is obviously biased towards its own product, there are a few things worth noting. Firstly Microsoft's Office Live is listed as only having "offline" office suite functionality - meaning its word processing, spreadsheet and presentation products do not work on the Web. This is the reason why, when Office Live went live in February this year, many people dismissed it as Office Lite. Also noteworthy is that ThinkFree and Office Live are the only Web Office products listed as being highly compatible with Microsoft Office. Writely (now owned by Google) is given a rating of "low" for MSO compatibility. This is significant because, like it or not, Microsoft Office dominates the office market with MSO. So compatibility with MSO will undoubtedly be an advantage for a Web Office suite.

Finally, the other thing that jumped out at me in the above table is that ThinkFree is listed as the only product that offers an open API. It's called iCdocs and lets users embed ThinkFree office apps into a webpage. For example this blogger experimented with integrating a ThinkFree presentation document into a blog post. ThinkFree also has Flickr integration.

It should be noted that other Web Office contenders have also demonstrated API integration with external systems - e.g. Writely has integrated with online homepages Netvibes and Pageflakes. I suspect that Writely and the rest of the Web Office contenders may also quibble with some of the other "x" marks against them in ThinkFree's Features table.

In my next post, I'll dive into how ThinkFree actually performs.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Strike one.......

    Thought that I would explore the "brave new world" of web products. To use the product I needed to install a newer version of Java and reboot my PC. Not very user friendly if I wanted to use this in multiple locations since I would have to perform this install and upgrade on every machine. If I'm going to start using a browser for all of my document creation I want it to be ubiquitous.
    • You probably should of updated Java a while ago. (NT)

      • Great reply

        Did you actually read that post? Most people have got better things to do than worry about updating cult languages.
        • Up To Date

          I think what he is trying to say, is if you had some up to date software on your computer, you would know that Java is used by a whole lot of other applications and functions, not exclusive to this particular program.
  • WebOffice Turns to WebBackOffice

    We're yet to see a product that combines the best of the web office with a proper business tools suite. This product would become the complete web/business productivity suite.

    Veetro at covers a range of business tools such as timesheets, invoices and help desk, but not the office-type tools.
  • Cute
    Reverend MacFellow
    • And the point is?

      • C U T E ...

        ... C U T E ...
        Reverend MacFellow
  • The real world

    How many times do we have to hear this hype with none of the problems of security and reliability being addressed.

    I went to Thinkfree. First thing I found was an admission that the site was slow and that it would be down for 2 hours for maintenance. World of Warcraft does this around once a week and some of the downtime is over 8 hours. Not exactly great if you live outside the main timezone or you work nighttimes.

    I also tried to look at the 'published documents' with no success. In all, it's exactly what you'd expect for a Web-based office - slow, unreliable and only available when the server owner decides it is. Not my idea of a business app. There's probably a niche there for people without Office or OpenOffice who don't know about WordPad and really want to write docs on the Web, but I don't think we are ready for global uptake.
    • Not ready for prime time

      I agree Tony that Web Office technology isn't ready for global uptake yet, precisely because of security and reliability. I keep writing about this stuff because I'm looking 5-10 years down the line when I hope those things are more stable. But it is interesting (to me at least) to see how the current crop of startups are building web-based office products. That's why I'm reviewing them (and perhaps hyping them - so feel free to pull me back down to earth when I do that).
  • Best Web Office is like being the best buggy maker...

    ... and that's just not too impressive in the age of automobiles, now is it? Excuse my simile, but the would-be Web Office providers are scrambling backward through time to reach the elusive goal of mainframe computing... one which turned out to be a bad idea in the first place and was subsequently crushed under the PC revolution.

    Strike One: The product requires installation of updated Java which conflicts with the requirements of some of my already loaded software. For more typical users, many aren't likely to be keeping their code up-to-date. Most users are still running whatever cam on their machine when they bought it three years ago.

    Strike Two: The Office product itself is rather slow, and some simple tasks seemed counter-intuitive. The file save function hung for a long time, and the contents of my document were lost. This doesn't bode well for accomplishing anything of value with the tool.

    Strike Three: The servers are going offline, which is -- of course -- worse than just slow. The product will be unavailable. What if my critical paper or presentation had a hard deadline and the provider decided to be offline when I needed it?

    You're out!

    As with each iteration of centralized computing in the past, the problems heavily outweigh the perceived advantage. The internet is slow, undependable, and providers are often offline at extremely inconvenient times. Furthermore, HTML and DHTML have serious limitations when it comes to document authoring which neither Active-X nor Java have, thus far, been able to overcome.

    Web Office remains a step backward into the era of crippled computing. Why would anyone want to do this?

    Just my $0.02 USD, your opinion may vary...

    • Amen to that

      I couldn't agree more. Nearly all the things that you do with office software are things you do on your own computer - writing a text document, entering data into a spreadsheet, and so on. Why on earth would anyone want to do this online?

      What's next, I wonder? Web CAD?
  • I have started using ThinkFree ...

    and happen to like it.

    Yes, I do understand it is a web app, so the performance is slow; however, I can see where it can have practical applications.

    For me personally, I see several good uses for ThinkFree at the moment. First, it can server as a replacement for Office on my laptop. Since I have a small HDD (12GB), I can ill-afford to fill it with extraneous stuff at the moment. Sure, I'll likely obtain a bigger HDD in the near future. For now, however, I can uninstall Office and use ThinkFree instead for typing up documents.

    Second, it will keep me from having a million different versions of the same document floating around. I have had more than my share of unfortunate incidents where I have sent the wrong version of a document to somebody.

    Finally, I will be able to use it to share documents for review. With taking classes online, it can sometimes be tricky to share documents in an asynchronous environment. With sharing and collaboration through ThinkFree, I don't have to upload my edited document a million times to newsgroups. Instead, the document can be edited online by everyone who needs to edit it and then, once complete, I can save it to my desktop to upload only one time to the newsgroup.

    As for functionality, it lacks some Office functionality (e.g., zomm to page width or text width), but not enough to be a major hinderance.