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ThinkFree Office: Will Operating Systems Become Irrelevant? - page 4

Turning Applications Into Web Services

  • March 9, 2000
  • By William Wong

ThinkFree is not alone in the rush to gain the hearts, minds and browsers of Internet users. On one side are the companies using a similar approach, such as desktop.com and MyWebOS.com. On the other side are established office applications like Sun's Star Office, Corel WordPerfect Office, and Microsoft's Office 2000, which are all in development with Web access similar to ThinkFree.

Companies like ThinkFree currently have good ideas but with office applications less functional than those of the established players like Sun, Microsoft and Corel. Luckily, ThinkFree is not going head-to-head in terms of features with these giants, as it could take years to catch up. Instead, what it's trying to do is provide most users with most of the functionality they use on a regular basis. For example, styles are very useful in a word processor, and ThinkFree's Write application has them. On the other hand, sophisticated Visual Basic Application (VBA) support in Microsoft Word or even Word's macro support has no counterpart with ThinkFree's product. This is because most users do not know about, let alone use, these features.

Internet companies tend to take a more streamlined approach. Desktop.com is working on a suite of products called Desktop, similar to ThinkFree's. I think Desktop.com has gone ThinkFree one better with its Desktop Express, an HTML-based interface to 10 MB of free storage as well as a customizable personal portal with everything from stock info to news headlines. Unlike the application suites that can operate offline ,it can only be accessed online. It was a little early to look at the Desktop suite but it will be interesting to compare final versions of the ThinkFree and Desktop.com application suites.

MyWebOS.com takes an approach similar to ThinkFree except that it's currently dependent upon Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 (IE), which renders it useless for Linux users unless they're running VMWare and Microsoft Windows. This reduces download times for application support, as many of the underlying tools are part of IE. MyWebOS comes with 20 MB of storage when you sign up. The desktop window looks a lot like the icon-based desktop of Windows but without the toolbar. The Hyperoffice 2000 application was not as far along as ThinkFree's offering, so a comparison will have to be left until later, but the idea is the same: download software for offline operations provides the user with a consistent office application interface even when disconnected from the Internet.

None of the Internet-based solutions are exactly the same and most are incomplete at this time. Applications need to be added. Feature lists need to be extended. Bugs need to be fixed and a major performance boost is in order. Improvements will keep coming, and this approach will only become more viable with time.

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