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Word Processor Still Has a Bit More to Right

December 14, 2000|LAWRENCE J. MAGID |

I'm writing this column in a program that looks and acts a lot like Microsoft Word.

Only it's not Word.

It's not from Microsoft.

And it's free.

The program is ThinkFree Write, which is part of ThinkFree Office, a suite of applications that can be downloaded free from The suite also includes a Microsoft Excel-like spreadsheet and a presentation program that's similar to Microsoft PowerPoint. It's from Cupertino, Calif.-based ThinkFree Corp.

Aside from being free, the software is also a lot less bulky than Microsoft Office. Instead of coming on several CD-ROMs, the entire program takes up only about 10 megabytes and can be downloaded from the Internet in a matter of minutes for anyone with a digital subscriber line or cable modem. Even someone with a standard dial-up modem can download it in less than an hour.

The other big difference is that ThinkFree is far more Internet compatible than Microsoft Office. In fact, it is, in some ways, what Microsoft has said it wants Office to become when it gets around to implementing the "Microsoft Net" strategy that the company announced this year. Unlike the current version of Microsoft Office, ThinkFree is designed from the ground up to work in conjunction with the Internet.

For one thing, ThinkFree comes with what the company calls CyberDrive, which is 20 MB worth of Internet-based storage for ThinkFree files. Although you can save files on your local hard disk, you also can save them on CyberDrive, which means that they're available from any PC in the world, as long as it's connected to the Internet. The CyberDrive shows up in your ThinkFree Open and Save dialogue boxes as if it were a local drive. Unfortunately, you can't access your CyberDrive unless ThinkFree software is running. It would be nice if you could also access it via a browser.

The free version displays advertisements in a banner at the top of the screen, similar to banner ads on a Web site. For $29.95 a year, you can subscribe to ThinkFree Standard Edition, which is free of advertising.

ThinkFree, which is written in Java, falls short of being a full-fledged Internet application. You can't, for example, run the entire program over the Internet. And you can't run it from any machine that can access the Web. Currently, you need a machine that runs some flavor of Windows or Red Hat Linux 6.1 or higher. The company says it's in the process of developing ThinkFree for other versions of Linux and for the Macintosh. It hasn't announced any plans to support Internet appliances such as the MSN Companion or 3Com's Audrey.

The program is designed to look, feel and work like Microsoft Office so that users can access Office documents. And, because it is similar to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, I could use ThinkFree productively in just a few minutes. In fact, I soon forgot I was using a program other than Microsoft Word.

I used it to create documents and edit files that I had earlier created in Microsoft Word. I also used Word to edit a file that I created in ThinkFree. In addition to standard word-processing documents, ThinkFree Write also can be used to create and edit Web pages. The Web page editing feature is actually more elegant and easier to use than the similar function in Microsoft Word.

But the program isn't 100% compatible with Office. It doesn't, for example, support Word's macros, and some of my PowerPoint presentations didn't run properly. The spreadsheet program, which is still in its beta test stage, has problems with some of the more advanced Excel spreadsheets.

Also, I found the program a bit rough around the edges. Although it ran on both my desktop and notebook PCs, it sometimes acted a bit erratic and, at one point, caused my notebook PC to freeze.

I give the folks at ThinkFree Corp. credit for being on the cutting edge of Internet technology and look forward to future versions. For the time being, I'm afraid, I'll have to continue to "think expensive" and stick with Microsoft Office.



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Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.

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