ThinkFree Office Online productivity suite

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ThinkFree Office Online productivity suite
  • ThinkFree Office Online productivity suite
  • ThinkFree Office Online productivity suite

Pros

  • Price, lots of word-processing features

Cons

  • Loading Write or Calc can take up to a minute, it takes about 10 seconds to save a small file, ThinkFree isn't completely compatible with Office

Bottom Line

ThinkFree works without a hitch. It's responsive, works perfectly saving new documents and importing those created in Office 2003. Its surprisingly well-rounded feature compatibility makes it the suite of choice for online work

Would you buy this?

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ThinkFree has three main components -- Write (a word processor), Calc (a spreadsheet), and Show (presentation software) -- all of which are listed on the site's My Office page, along with your most recently edited files.

If you want a free office productivity suite but are concerned about document compatibility with Microsoft Office, you want ThinkFree. There's simply no contest.

ThinkFree Write offers two modes of operation when you open a file and see a preview screen. Quick Edit mode offers a minimal interface -- a few toolbar buttons for simple editing, reminding you more of WordPad than Word.

ThinkFree Write's Power Edit looks more like a full application: menus, a rich toolbar, a ruler bar and even a drawing toolbar similar to Word's for inserting elements such as AutoShapes, text boxes, clip art, and pictures.

In fact, ThinkFree's Power Edit menu reveals a startling number of word-processing features, from columns and drop caps to AutoCorrect and table manipulation, such as merging cells, distributing cells evenly across the page, repeating header rows. Though it lacks support for wild cards, the find feature can highlight all occurrences of your search term.

You can add bookmarks, create table of contents entries, choose styles for your numbered lists, insert page breaks and use fields (including formulae).

ThinkFree Write allows you to insert images from clip art, from an image file, or directly from the Flickr photo-sharing service. Right-click on a misspelled word (which is underlined with a red squiggly line) and ThinkFree Write offers properly spelt alternatives.

There's undo and redo, zoom levels and the ability to save files as PDFs. You can also publish your documents to your own Web site using HTML that ThinkFree Write generates, attach ThinkFree or Microsoft Office documents to articles in your WordPress blog or other options.

The downside: loading Write or Calc can take up to a minute, and saving a small file takes about 10 seconds. The upside: ThinkFree hides your browser's menu bar, so when you use familiar keyboard shortcuts (such as Alt+F, O for File/Open), you are operating within the ThinkFree interface, not your browser.

Other similarities to Microsoft Office are downright eerie -- the charting wizard in ThinkFree Calc looks just like Excel's and supports all of Excel's chart types.

ThinkFree isn't completely compatible with Office. For example, you can't create a PivotTable, and conditional formatting -- in which the background colour of a cell varies by its value using settings you provide -- is not supported in Calc, although it did properly handle array formulae (both on existing worksheets we imported and on those created within Calc itself).

To its credit, Calc opened the charts we created in Excel accurately and quickly; however, "template" and "macro" are concepts ThinkFree Write and Calc applications don't understand.

The spreadsheet module imported a test worksheet (with 330 rows and 70 columns filled with text) in under two seconds, recalculations were speedy, and moving about from cell to cell was responsive. In fact, if we didn't know better, we'd have sworn we were working with native Excel on a slightly underpowered system.

In promoting Office 2007, Microsoft talked a lot about helping users get the most out of features already in Office. ThinkFree's simple menus, fast response and wide range of features compatible with Office applications make it a good choice if you're looking for an Office work-alike that doesn't have all the high-end features you probably aren't using anyway.

The ThinkFree suite also comes with a presentation module for creating PowerPoint-compatible files, an application we did not test.

To share a file, you pick the mail client for sending the invitation -- ThinkFree Mail, Google's Gmail, Hotmail or a local e-mail client such as Outlook or Thunderbird -- and specify if the invitee can edit the document or just view and download it. It worked smoothly.

An extension to ThinkFree allows you to view documents on other Web sites by simply right-clicking a link to a document, then choosing the appropriate ThinkFree application (it supports files with .doc, .rtf, .txt, .xls, .csv, .ppt, and .pps extensions).

ThinkFree's speed is due, in part, to a mix of technologies: Asynchronous JavaScript and XML for simple functionality and faster access, and Java for more complex functions and deeper Microsoft compatibility. The suite will soon be updated to use Flash to display presentations with animation.

Here we've reviewed a free version. ThinkFree also offers a Premium Edition that provides offline and online access, synchronisation between offline and online files, bulk archiving of documents in your online folders and priority tech support (with 24-hour response). There's also a version for small and mid-size businesses that will add group and user access.

There's also a desktop-only edition, as well as a server edition and even an iPod version of ThinkFree.

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