CUPERTINO, CALIF. (06/15/2000) - A California startup is about to launch a free Internet service that lets users download a suite of compact office applications but save data and files on a hosted server.
ThinkFree.com Corp.'s ThinkFree Office applications intentionally mimic the widely used Microsoft Office applications in features and appearance. But ThinkFree users can, from any computer, download the applications as needed over the Internet, work offline and then reconnect to move documents, spreadsheets and presentations to a dedicated "cyberfolder" - a network drive with 25M bytes of disk space for each user.
Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are readying somewhat similar offerings by adapting, respectively, Microsoft Office and StarOffice so the programs can be accessed via the Web.
The ThinkFree applications, including a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation graphics, are written in Java and, with a click on a Web link, install automatically on the client. The complete group of programs needs about 6.5M bytes of storage and an additional 2M bytes for the Java graphics libraries, called Swing. The word processor alone is just under 1.5M bytes.
Because it's a true set of applications, the ThinkFree suite is highly interactive, with items such as drop-down windows and menus. By contrast, pure HTML applications lack these capabilities and have to connect over the Net to the server each time a screen is changed.
"There's a lot of processing power on the PC, so why not use it?" asks Richard Buchanan, vice president of marketing at ThinkFree.com.
Buchanan says the ThinkFree programs have up to 90 percent of the features found in Microsoft Office. ThinkFree documents, spreadsheets and presentation graphics are fully compatible with their Microsoft counterparts, he says.
"We found [in our research] that users were more than willing to deal with some degree of file interoperability because they experience that anyway with [different versions of] Microsoft Office," Buchanan says. "But they were totally impatient with having to learn a new user interface to these applications."
Users register for the free service and receive a user name and password. They log on via a Web browser, then link to begin the initial download. Once the applications install, users can log off and click on an icon to activate them.
ThinkFree, like the Hotmail and Yahoo sites, will make money from advertisers and partners on its Web site.
The initial release of ThinkFree, due July 4, relies on the older Java 1.0 specification. The software is being revamped using Java2, which includes a way of creating reusable components, called JavaBeans.
On July 4, the final version of the word processing program will be out, with early releases for the spreadsheet and presentation programs, and beta releases for an e-mail client and personal information manager.
ThinkFree: www.thinkfree. com.