Every once in a while I find a product that causes me to say, "Wow! That's neat. But what would I ever use it for?" I found one of those products this week and have been using it for a bit. I have even found some useful purposes for it.
ThinkFree has been around for some time. It is an office suite of programs: a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation package. ThinkFree can read and write files in the same formats as Microsoft Office: .DOC, .XLS, and .PPT files. (Word, Excel and PowerPoint, respectively), along with several other formats. Best of all, ThinkFree is available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems. The regular version of ThinkFree sells for $49.95, a fraction of what Microsoft charges for similar programs. That would be a very attractive price, except that OpenOffice.org, a program with similar capabilities, is available at no charge. As a result, ThinkFree has never obtained much popularity in the marketplace.
The ThinkFree Corporation has now taken its basic technology and created an online office suite. You can now connect to ThinkFree's web site, log on, and create word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online. The required software is stored on ThinkFree's servers and downloaded to your computer as needed. The files it creates normally are stored on your computer's hard drive although there is an option to save documents on ThinkFree's servers. You can also use ThinkFree's web-based service to directly store documents on your blog.
The best part is that this service is available at no charge.
ThinkFree is written in Java, a language that easily downloads from a web site and executes in your computer. Java applets are programs designed to be free of viruses and other online nasties. If you have visited many web sites, you probably have already run a number of Java programs without knowing it.
When you first use ThinkFree, the application seems to take forever to download. However, that is a one-time phenomenon. The application is "cached" on your hard disk. The second and subsequent times you use the program, it loads quickly.
It looks a bit strange to see a window open on your computer and then to see a full-featured word processor, spreadsheet program, or presentation program appear inside that window. Indeed, ThinkFree appears to have all the features of Word at first glance. ThinkFree includes spell checking, tables of content, all sorts of formatting options, the ability to save files as DOC files or RTF files or ASCII text files or Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) files, and more. It also creates columns. ThinkFree's word processor will also create "WordArt:" fancy graphs, pictures, fonts, and more.
One feature that I liked was the ability to store documents as PDF (Adobe's Portable Document Format) files, a feature not available yet on Microsoft Word.
To be sure, some of Word's advanced features are missing in ThinkFree. Yet the program contains all the basics and a lot more features than I would have expected. In fact, it appears to have all the features that I ever use.
ThinkFree's Java works only with the Firefox web browser, not with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. As a result, you must use Firefox to access the site and run these programs. That's a good thing, in my opinion, as Firefox is a much safer web browser than is Internet Explorer.
In order to use ThinkFree's free web version of the software, you must first create an account. However, the account is free of charge and even allows you to store up to 30 megabytes of data on ThinkFree's servers. Of course, you can store even more on your own hard drive, limited only by the size of your hard drive.
All in all, I am impressed with ThinkFree's online edition. It is useful for any computer that does not have a powerful word processor, spreadsheet, or presentation program installed. I also will use it when visiting someone else and using a borrowed computer, even if the one I am using does have such programs installed.
I also appreciate ThinkFree Online's multi-platform capability. I can create a document on a Windows computer, then later use it on a Macintosh or Linux system if I wish.
For more information or to create a free account and start using ThinkFree Online, go to http://www.thinkfree.com.
NOTE: This article was written on a Linux system, using ThinkFree Online. You can also use Windows or Macintosh with similar ease.