I’ve been playing with ThinkFree Office for a bit this evening. It’s a web-based Office system running via a fairly intense Java applet that allows you pull in Word, Excel and PowerPoint files from any machine via a compatible web browser. That last bit is key – I originally loaded it up through Firefox on my Debian system and it didn’t want to play. Admitedly that was probably caused by the Java runtime environment of which I had an old version seemingly not compatible with Firefox 1.5, and ThinkFree Office do give you a pretty pop-up letting you know they’re working hard on improving non-Windows / Internet Explorer support.
A few months back when Google and Sun first started pal’ing up, a few people thought maybe they would push a web-based Office product, which I thought would be pretty cool at the time. I still think it would be, and can see some good uses for the ThinkFree Office system, but I’m not keen on it being so reliant on Java, as even on my Windows laptop it took 5-10 minutes to download the latest version, install it, then download + configure the cabinet files for the applet itself.
But, it was cool to login to work via WebDav interface and find when choosing ‘File | Open’ through ThinkFree Office it will pull in such network drives via ‘My Network Places’ and open files across the Internet from work into a web-based Office app and save it back to the servers behing my desk in the office!
Whether it’s something I’m likely to use much, I don’t know. I’d need to read their terms of service a bit more closely to figure out, for example, whether there are any restrictions on educational use. As you can open + save documents from / to your local computer, the 30Mb space with a basic account becomes obsolete other than storing documents to move between computers, but technically you could do away with Office licences on workstations in schools and simply have a shortcut that points users through to the ThinkFree Office portal to login and load the app. They prohibit multiple accounts from a single individual, but nothing to stop multiple persons each creating an individual account.
Certainly an interesting app and with features such as an iPod version which looks very cool by utilising it as a portable hard drive for transfering documents, and a server version seemingly allowing you to purchase + install into your own servers for use within a network environment, it’s got a lot of promise.