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ThinkFree Office: Will Operating Systems Become Irrelevant? - page 3

Turning Applications Into Web Services

  • March 9, 2000
  • By William Wong

The Calc application is a spreadsheet that borders on the basic. It is fine for totaling up a column of numbers or generating a basic graph, but Microsoft Excel users will feel out of their environment even though it looks similar. Multiple tabbed spreadsheets are supported but multiple sheet operations were not.

Formatting was limited on the version I tested and macros were nonexistent. The number of built-in functions was impressive but using some was difficult with the limited documentation. Hints were available for toolbar buttons but not for cell contents. Cell attributes like height and width could be set numerically but not graphically. Most competing products can resize a column by dragging the boundary between columns.

Show, used for creating slideshows, is comparable to Microsoft PowerPoint but its comparable feature list is less impressive than Calc's. Show does have master slide support and decent drawing capabilities. In fact, its linked drawing features make org chart layout a snap. It can generate HTML files as easily as PowerPoint files.

However, Show lacks features like templates and animation. Slides can be shown automatically at fixed intervals but there aren't any sorts of slide transitions. This makes Show good for HTML or basic presentations but not for more sophisticated PC-based ones.

Using the applications took a little unlearning Microsoft Office habits. Menus tended to be similar but not identical. There was no Alt-key access to menus, but control-key-based shortcuts were usually implemented. Online help was limited. Context information was fair but a general overview and general documentation is lacking. This is one area that will see improvement as the software becomes more polished.

Overall, the ThinkFree office applications are very functional and quite suitable to new users that have not learned to utilize more advanced features found in other office products. They are definitely more than sufficient if you find a PC with an Internet connection and need access to a consistent set of office applications--just hope there's a wide pipe for the initial download.

The implementation we examined was relatively complete from the top-level interface. Underneath, it seemed that a number of major features had yet to be added, like automatic cell formatting in Calc. The filters could use a lot more work, but the applications were fine with their native format. HTML output was good.

The programs proved to be very stable even when unimplemented or partially implemented features were used. The applications were very usable as long as the documents created were within the limits of the current incarnation.

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