Like its online counterpart, ThinkFree Office 3 provides the core applications that people use the most: a word processor, a spreadsheet maker, and a presentation-graphics creator. Affordably priced at $50 for the desktop edition, this suite lacks extras such as a database.
By contrast, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 has Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for $150. Apple iWork costs about half that, but with fewer features. The new three-app Lotus Symphony beta is a good, free package. For true bargain hunters, OpenOffice.org 2, the open-source version of Sun Microsystems' solid productivity suite , each includes a database and won't cost you a penny.
ThinkFree's Write, Calc, and Show are decent Microsoft copycats. Write, for instance, uses Word's DOC file extension as its de facto format, but it also reads and writes RTF (Rich Text), SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic), and PDF (Adobe Acrobat) formats. ThinkFree's capability to export Acrobat files is noteworthy. You can even use ThinkFree Show iPod edition to carry presentations on the handheld MP3 player, then connect to a projector.
But ThinkFree Office 3 lacks some essentials, too. Calc, for instance, doesn't support hyperlinks in spreadsheets (Excel does); Write doesn't offer advanced tools such as Word's Smart Tags (pop-up icons that provide fast access to other Office tools); and Show won't play the sound, movie, and animation effects in PowerPoint 2003 files. ThinkFree officials say these features are under development.
The online version of ThinkFree offers some neat features that enhance its word-processing, spreadsheet-editing, and presentations-crafting abilities. It has added Web publishing, and it's cool that you can search by subject for images from the Flickr photo-sharing site, then insert them, which automatically pastes the source URL alongside the picture. The array of photos from Flickr users is a nice alternative to clip-art libraries--which ThinkFree also provides, unlike Zoho and Google. You click on an embedded image in ThinkFree to tweak its brightness and contrast--although you can't preview the changes first, unlike with Microsoft Office 2007 software. ThinkFree Write supports a slew of fonts, as well as bookmarking for long documents. You can post blog entries to accounts at Blogger, Typepad, WordPress, and Squarespace. There's also support for Atom and Movable Type. ThinkFree Show includes many attractive templates and is more professional than other online presentations apps. ThinkFree also lets you share files with other users.
There are some downsides to ThinkFree Online. Each application allows only one open file at a time, which gets tedious in a hurry. Second, when you close a browser window, ThinkFree Office Online doesn't ask if you'd like to save changes to the file.
Unfortunately, ThinkFree hasn't built a bridge between its services and Microsoft Office, unlike Zoho's Word and Excel plug-in that lets you instantly upload work to Zoho's servers. If you use Microsoft Word at work and want to edit the document with ThinkFree, you'll have to cut and paste or upload that file by visiting ThinkFree's Web site.
ThinkFree provides free, 24-hour e-mail support but no phone or online chat assistance. Our support experiences were mixed. The company answered one of our e-mail queries within eight hours, but another question went unanswered for several days. Still, the replies were succinct, polite, and professional. The vendor's support Web site provides a limited selection of FAQs and a sparse knowledge base that needs more nitty-gritty details on product features and troubleshooting issues.
Overall, the combination of ThinkFree Office 3 and its online counterpart may suit you if you're in the market for a no-frills, low-cost package of tools that lets you access and edit files while on the road. If you can wait patiently while ThinkFree Online takes its time to save documents, its Web-based software offers more storage and editing features than do its rivals.