For ThinkFree, timing is everything

ThinkFree's functions in association with Google's Blogger service is a no-brainer.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor on

I first met TJ Kang, CEO of ThinkFree, about five years ago when ASPs were -- conceptually, at least -- all the rage. His pure Java-based, Microsoft Office-compatible online productivity applications were very slick to me then, but the world -- and the typical connection speeds -- were not ready. And Java applets on the desktop thing sort of languished, too, as you know. Remember Oracle's Hat Trick?

Yet now the planets are aligning anew, and in many ways to ThinkFree's favor. The platform agnostic $50 ThinkFree Office 3 suite runs as Java applets within browsers. It makes it easy for bloggers to embed MS Office formatted documents into their blogs, where they can be viewed and edited (and saved to local drives). This includes .ppt presentations and spread sheets.

Try it out. You'll need a good JVM, and will require an applet download. As with a lot of desktop Java, performance could be better. Despite these manageable issues, imagine an intranet blog where workers easily create and share a team-room like review of documents or presentations -- cheap and easy -- without a team room-type server. Imagine blogs as windows into live MS Office or XML documents within the browser.

Google's new snuggle with Sun should also prompt Google engineers to carefully evaluate ThinkFree in addition to OpenOffice.org offerings. Using both makes sense, depending on the markets and functional and performance requirements. ThinkFree's functions in association with Google's Blogger service is a no-brainer. I can see making ThinkFree and Firefox a dynamic duo, too. There's even an iPod edition.

And ISPs and telecommunications, data networks providers, and mobile carriers that are (and should be) concerned about what Google and Microsoft MSN might provide as alternative VOIP and business applications services combos -- they too ought to give ThinkFree a review. If nothing other than a hedge, ThinkFree could provide a swift get-to-market parlay in response, when needed. Mobile carriers should be aware that the ThinkFree applets make fine document viewers on the small screen.

I'm not sure if ThinkFree's time has come to in any way appreciably unseat MS Office, but the venture backed company (they raised $24 million during the bubble years) was sold to South Korea's publicly traded Haansoft Inc. in late 2003. The ThinkFree division re-emerged this summer. The suite will support 15 languages, including Spanish, French and German this month. It is offering a inside-the-firewall server, as well as the suite-as-a-service. And the suite will probably support the Open Document Format next year.

Yes, I'd say the timing is auspicious for ThinkFree, not necessarily as an MS Office killer, but as a cost-effective Office documents embracer and extender.

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