ThinkFree Online

ThinkFree Online

Available from: http://www.thinkfree.com

Minimum Reqirements: Windows 98, MacOSX 10.4, Linux 2.6, IE6 or Firefox 2.0, 512MB RAM

Despite what the name might lead you to believe, ThinkFree's office suite actually comes in two formats, only one of which is actually free. The full set of desktop applications will cost you a reasonable £39, while an online, server-based version that the desktop apps can sync with can be used by anyone for free. Documents are stored online in the 1GB provided, but you can also save them offline without export.

In other respects, ThinkFree Online seems a credible rival to Zoho and Google Docs. It features the Write word processor, Calc spreadsheet, Show presentation and Note apps, all bundled up with an online service that integrates a range of document-sharing features, complete with contact lists, invites and projects you can set up and manage.

It's also the most capable of the three online suites when it comes to creating good-looking documents. For instance, the Show presentation app features basic animation options, where you can assign exit, entrance and emphasis effects to graphics or text basics, plus a range of decent-looking templates. The word processor handles inserted images better than either of the two rivals, with full controls to move, resize and even rotate graphics, and it's possible to use all the existing fonts on your system and have complete control of styles and formatting. Control of tables is also surprisingly good.

The interface is slightly odd, in that ThinkFree hits you with one set of toolbars at the top of the page, another at the bottom, and then adds a Task Pane on the right-hand side for the Show application, and the Write application when you open certain tools. UI consistency isn’t great, and finding the right tool isn’t always intuitive.

Office file compatibility is also a bit of a mixed bag. Some Office 2010 files opened first time, with spreadsheets and a complex presentation offering reasonable fidelity to the original, down to background graphics and the correct placement of images. It actually performed better than Symphony or Zoho with these files, even if animations and advanced effects were missing, yet a less complex Word 2007 document refused to load at all. It's also not a good choice for those with a library of OpenOffice.org or Symphony OpenDoc documents. These consistently failed to open.

Unfortunately, ThinkFree has one other major flaw, and that's running speed. Depending on the speed of your connection, documents can take thirty seconds or more to load into the various editing applications, and once loaded you'll meet frequent pauses, particularly if you insert a number of graphics or get involved with more complex operations. This rather spoils the feeling that you're using a slick desktop application. If ThinkFree can fix this, then the more advanced feature set would give it the edge over Zoho. As it is, however, you need too much patience to get the most out of it.

Verdict

It has the features to best Google Docs and Zoho in the online office stakes, but it's slow and has a so-so interface.

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