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ThinkFree Office: Will Operating Systems Become Irrelevant?
Turning Applications Into Web Services
March 9, 2000
ThinkFree is on the frontlines fighting the war for online office applications, and while the company is winning battles, it is going to be a long war. Unfortunately, ThinkFree has to fight on many fronts, so we will have to wait and see if ThinkFree turns out to be General Patton or Don Quixote.
ThinkFree's service premise is simple: give users free software that runs on any platform and provide free Internet-based storage. Now a user can run the application on almost any PC and files can be stored and downloaded from the Internet. This means that users of any operating system--including Linux, which is explicitly supported by ThinkFree--can access office applications remotely without having anything installed locally. It also counters the issue of a lack of Linux applications.
Where does the money come from? Keep an eye out for advertising and premium services. The approach has worked well with other Internet services. It is also the approach used by the competition including desktop.com and MyWebOS.com.
ThinkFree's solution is a combination of its Web site and Java-based software called ThinkFree Office, which you download and run through your Web browser. The current suite of applications includes Filer, Write, Calc and Show. (E-mail support will be added to the mix but was not available for testing.) The design theme for the user interface is clearly based on Microsoft Office (more on this and the applications a little later).
ThinkFree's Web site provides information, a distribution site for ThinkFree Office, and a repository for ThinkFree users. After providing the usual name, address, and e-mail address, 20 MB of space is made available and a long application download begins. Grab a snack if you have a modem connection. The download is done only once (subsequent updates take much less time), although the software checks for updates each time you link to the site. This process can take almost a minute.
To increase the amount of online storage, ThinkFree has three options that provide 5 MB of additional space just for answering a few more personal questions. Remember, nothing is really free; it is just that the currency is now information.