This was not a good week to review Cloud-based software in the CRN Test Center lab, as stormy and icy weather all around us played a role in limiting our Internet access for about 36 hours.
So we won’t hold that against ThinkFree, the hosted productivity suite that bills itself as a full, true office offering that’s compatible with Microsoft extensions.
ThinkFree Online has also been in the game for longer than competitors, like Google Docs and Google Apps, and Zoho, the suite of productivity, business and collaboration software. And it’s also offered online word processing and spreadsheets for far longer than Microsoft itself -- which has launched Office Live within the past year and is beta testing Office 365.
The basic suite is fine. It works. For creating and editing word documents and spreadsheets, it’s solid and -- in a good way -- unsurprising. We do like that basic macro creation in ThinkFree spreadsheets is essentially the same as with Microsoft’s Excel.
Word documents can be downloaded into a number of formats, including .doc, .rtf, .txt, .xml, .docx and PDF. (Although, ThinkFree is missing out on attracting some users by not including ODF.)
ThinkFree also has a “Workspace” function, which allows for collaboration. This is largely limited to sharing task lists -- which falls short of more robust collaboration features in Google Docs or even Office Live.
ThinkFree does provide 1 GB of Web-based storage for free.
We tried ThinkFree with Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 browsers, and we tried it on both Mac OS X and Windows systems. There were no platform-to-platform hiccups.
Next, we downloaded ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer -- a free app from the Android Market -- onto an Android device. That worked fine, as well to access documents created in or uploaded to the Test Center’s ThinkFree account workspace.
(A full, Android version that allows for document creation and editing sells for $14.99.)
But, again, this week due to a severe ice storm in the Northeast, that impacted our offices, we suffered sporadic outages of our Internet service. That provided frustration and a reminder of the limitations of pure, Web-based applications -- particularly for productivity.
Additionally, once our Internet service was back and operating at normal bandwidth, we did notice a fair amount of latency in accessing documents via the ThinkFree service online. It shouldn’t take 30 seconds to access a document, whether it’s online or on a hard drive. With ThinkFree, it did.
If you’re using ThinkFree now, it’s solid enough to continue using particularly by those who need to work in Microsoft Office-compatible platforms. But it didn’t show us any differentiation other than a more visually appealing interface, and the latency of the service was an aggravation. And with all of the competition, it won’t get any easier to stand out in the market.