Tuesday, May 02, 2006

ThinkFree - world's best Web Office?

Last week I spoke to TJ Kang, CEO of ThinkFree - which is "I think we are better [than OpenOffice.org] - especially with the spreadsheet and presentation" billing itself as the "World's Best Web Based Office Suite". We spoke about how ThinkFree compares to other Web Office products and how ThinkFree's compatibility with Microsoft Office will (according to TJ) give them the edge. In this post, the first of two, I explore the Web Office market according to ThinkFree. In my next post I will review the actual product and see whether it lives up to its hype.

ThinkFree is at first glance an impressive Web Office system. Its online functionality is based predominantly on Java, although they are beginning to release Ajax functionality (more on that in the next post). But also ThinkFree offers a high degree of compatibility with Microsoft Office - and it's this, according to TJ Kang, that really differentiates ThinkFree from its competitors.

One of the most interesting parts of my discussion with TJ was on how ThinkFree views itself in the Web Office market. Here is a screenshot from a ThinkFree presentation:


As you can see, ThinkFree gives itself high marks for web/online functionality - i.e. collaboration, tagging, search, blogging, publishing. Thinkfree places itself first for online functionality, along with Writely. ThinkFree also gives itself high marks for office suite functionality (which essentially means the range of Office features a product has - word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, etc). Microsoft Office Live is the only product rated higher for office suite functionality, due to its natural compatibility with desktop big brother Microsoft Office.

I found it interesting that ThinkFree views itself as equivalent in office functionality to OpenOffice.org, an open source desktop product maintained by Sun Microsystems. TJ admitted this is a big call and said that OpenOffice has "a lot more features". However he said that "in terms of the compatibility offer [with MS Office], I think we are better - especially with the spreadsheet and presentation."

ThinkFree prides itself on having more functionality than the other Web Office players, but TJ told me it isn't a case of features for features sake. Rather, ThinkFree's main reason for having so much functionality is to be compatible with Microsoft Office. He said if they didn't have that level of compatibility, then MS Office users "wouldn't make the move". One of ThinkFree's goals is to ween MS Office users off the desktop and onto the Web.

Now let's look at a feature comparison between ThinkFree and its competitors:


Bearing in mind that ThinkFree produced this table and so is obviously biased towards its own product, there are a few things worth noting. Firstly Microsoft's Office Live is listed as only having "offline" office suite functionality - meaning its word processing, spreadsheet and presentation products do not work on the Web. This is the reason why, when Office Live went live in February this year, many people dismissed it as Office Lite. Also noteworthy is that ThinkFree and Office Live are the only Web Office products listed as being highly compatible with Microsoft Office. Writely (now owned by Google) is given a rating of "low" for MSO compatibility. This is significant because, like it or not, Microsoft Office dominates the office market with MSO. So compatibility with MSO will undoubtedly be an advantage for a Web Office suite.

Finally, the other thing that jumped out at me in the above table is that ThinkFree is listed as the only product that offers an open API. It's called iCdocs and lets users embed ThinkFree office apps into a webpage. For example this blogger experimented with integrating a ThinkFree presentation document into a blog post. ThinkFree also has Flickr integration.

It should be noted that other Web Office contenders have also demonstrated API integration with external systems - e.g. Writely has integrated with online homepages Netvibes and Pageflakes. I suspect that Writely and the rest of the Web Office contenders may also quibble with some of the other "x" marks against them in ThinkFree's Features table.