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Another Office Alternative 214

MiTEG writes "The Washington Post has an article on a cheaper alternative to Microsoft's Office Suite, ThinkFree Office. Currently selling for $50, their product also includes a one year subscription to Cyberdrive, a 20 MB web file-storage service. While it's no StarOffice, this glowing review may help people realize that Microsoft is not the only option." 'Glowing review' probably isn't the right term to use, since the reviewer found quite a few faults.
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Another Office Alternative

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  • faults? (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by jeffy124 ( 453342 )
    since the reviewer found quite a few faults

    Are you suggesting that Office XP has no faults?

    Like setting when you setup spam filters in Outlook XP the "Send/Receive Button" stops working? Or how Word says "this document has macros, you have macros disabled. you need to enable macros to make them work" when the Doc doesnt have macros? I could probably find a few more if you'd like.......
    • Well, come on. I think the reviewer was talking about fairly basic things. Extra spacing between lines or characters when you paste text is something that I'd reasonably expect not to happen.

      Sure, both XP and Thinkfree have faults. In my opinion, though, if the faults involve *basic* functionality, the annoyance factor shoots up pretty quick.
  • I'm underwhelmed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RatOmeter ( 468015 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @09:41AM (#3298785)
    "Less than glowing" review is right. To paraphrase the reviewer, it's buggy and slow.

    My experience with Java, the language this app was written in, is limited to a little experimentation, web-based javascripts and using Limewire (the Gnutella client). Limewire is also an app that I would describe as buggy and slow, with emphasis on slow.

    Does anyone else have an opinion on the suitability of Java in medium (Limewire) to large (thinkFree's product) desktop applications?
    • ime, Java is slow with desktop apps. It's better geared for back-end stuff like webservers or database apps. I've used more than a few Java desktop apps that slow down as the document or whatever is being worked on gets larger. My guess is that it's the gui that slows things down, as text-mode apps feel like native apps after the start-up penalty. Now granted, I havent yet given 1.4 it's chance on the desktop, where many improvements to swing have been made, so we shall see how it goes....
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I have to concur with another poster - there's nothing inherently slow about Java. When you drill down to the runtime environment, each component is almost as fast as c++... The problem is that Java makes it really easy to write slow code - and pretty Java is usually slow java.

        The trick is to keep in mind that 10% of the code is executed 90% of the time, so once you're done writing a Java app to be pretty, go back and performance tune it. Thus far, most programmers forget that step.
        • by jeffy124 ( 453342 )
          yeah, the other poster is correct - writing slow java code is easy to do. but as i said in my post above, text apps feel native once they get going. it's just been my experience that large gui apps are noticebly slower on Java 1.3. see my otehr post about why guis might be slower [] than text apps.
    • by phaze3000 ( 204500 )
      Javascript really has very little to do with Java, other than the first four letters and a small amount of syntax.

      Java really needn't be slow, especially if using 1.2 or above. As for buggy, a program can have bugs whatever langauge it's written in, but the nature of Java maks them less likely than say, C.

      • Re:I'm underwhelmed (Score:2, Interesting)

        by RatOmeter ( 468015 )
        "Javascript really has very little to do with Java" That pretty well shows the limit of my knowledge of Javascript :|

        I have to agree with you on the "buggy" issue; I didn't mean to imply that Java code was inherently more buggy. One feature I really admire, is the portability of code... Sun has done a great job of keeping that feature in line.

        Another poster said that GUI's are probably the slowest part of a desktop Java app. I've seen things that may support that position. If true, wouldn't that be the fault of the Java Runtime Engine?
        • Re:I'm underwhelmed (Score:3, Informative)

          by jeffy124 ( 453342 )
          the reason swing is slow is because it has maintain prtability between windowing systems (GNOME vs KDE, for example) and OSs (like Windows vs Solaris). As a result, the code becomes a little bloated in getting everybody supported equally.

          AWT, the original gui package, ran ok for the runtime environment it had, but was very feature limited, as they only implemented something everybody had.

          Swing, OTOH, implementes every gui widget you can think of, and uses the Java 2D graphics package instead of the native windowing system (although that too has changed). When I said earlier that Swing was improved in 1.4, it was actually this 2D package that was improved.

          Chances are high that the ThinkFree suite was implemented for Java 1.3 since 1.4 was just released within the past month or two.
        • by jdh28 ( 19903 ) <`moc.toofgib' `ta' `82hdj'> on Sunday April 07, 2002 @11:00AM (#3298975) Homepage
          One feature I really admire, is the portability of code... Sun has done a great job of keeping that feature in line.

          They obviously haven't done a good enough job for ThinkFree, since they're having to maintain separate Windows, Linux and Mac versions of the Office Suite.


    • by Bilbo ( 7015 )
      I've used some really big applications (as in, 400Meg memory footprint), and while it is slow on old hardware, it performs reasonably well. Just make sure you have lots of RAM, and a moderately fast CPU.

      Really, the question is not so much the language (Java), as it is the people writing the application. You can write dog slow applications in any language. Java can be fast, but it takes time and effort, and some good tools to help you fine bottlenecks. (Think: "OptimizeIt")

    • by Bodrius ( 191265 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @10:21AM (#3298895) Homepage
      As a lot of people have to repeat every once in a while: Java != Javascript. Java has nothing to do with Javascript, actually (nothing more than with, say, CShell). The name of the latter was a marketing gimmick.

      That said, Java earned a bad reputation from being used in Applets all over the Net, which are victims of every defect Java has (or at least used to have until very, very recently).

      One of those defects is that Swing really, really sucks. Now, it's design may be great or not, and it may be full of design patterns or not, but it has been, up to 1.3, very "buggy and slow". You can cope with the buginess if you need to, but it will make it even slower.

      AWT too, but at least AWT didn't claim it had fixed the problem when it did not.

      Another defect, which is not exactly Java's, is that Applets on the web were mostly programming experiments by novices in both the language and programming. Java was hip, and everyone who had a webpage had to have an Applet. They were bound to be buggy. And the circumstances didn't help.

      The world was exposed to millions of "Hello World" desktop applications brought online by Sun's Magnificent Hype Machine, programmed in a cranky and immature GUI library (AWT/early-Swing), with incompatible JVMs (Microsoft's), slowly downloaded to the client's machine through a 28.8K-56K modem... all increasing the amount of frustration when the "ClassNotFound" exception presents the user with a dazzling gray square.

      Java is a nice language, but for desktop applications it's just not a great choice, unless 1.4 delivered the promise (I have yet to try it for desktop apps). But that promise was there with 1.3, and even with the birth of Swing.

      I'm sure it is technically possible to use it for medium-big applications, there are plenty (big) IDEs written in Java that are very, very usable. I also hear very good comments about some non-Sun libraries, but I'm afraid no one really cares.

      Java for the desktop is seen as the wrong solution to the problem, and will remain so for a long time even if they fix it, thanks to Sun's mistake. Java's place as the right solution seems to be on the server, where it's definitely not buggy nor terribly slow, with the desktop as a thin client (SOAP, JSP) implemented in something else.
      • Java for the desktop has been "proven" wrong in shrink wrap software, but for custom work it is actually a huge success.

        Amongst other large companies, my (unnamed, large telecommunications/gis company) makes customized solutions for most of the biggest players in classic telephony, and scads of minor clec's, utility companies, etc. Our UI is all Java (some of the mid tier stuff is C, but the UI is straight Java). It works, it works quickly and well

        The Reason that the Java UI in most program has problems is not so much a problem of Swing, but of people not reading the first thing (or paying attention if they did) about Java. Swing is written to have a seperate UI thread. Most people ignore this. They open a menu, and the menu is generated, actrions for the items in it are created, and then it is drawn. Then they select something and the UI hangs for a moment while the UI thread has to execute the action.

        Watch the user interface closely in most well built applications and you will see the UI responds to an event faster than the event occurs because it is allowed its own thread. On a quick machine they seem simultaneous, but they are not. This become most pronounced in games, since games tend to push the performance envelope the farthest. Issue a command, and it will happen, eventually, but you are not stuck in a "command queued" type mode that is the effective thing that most poor UI designs (application not pretty pictures) with Swing do to the user. Good games provide audible feadback that the command was issued (to avoid the user issueing it 8 more times wondering why it doesna work) creating the illusion of snappier UI. It is a good illusion too.

        Large applications do this too. Watch MS Office carefully sometime ;-)

        Swing has its defects. Capturing global key events is a terrible kludge; the "Windows Look and Feel" is hideous; efficient programming requires a seperate UI thread (though this is true in most any large desktop app, is just more pronounce din java); its use of AWT classes fairly liberally makes it feel krufty; it (this is really Java, not Swing) has too damn many forced-catch exceptions (let the bloody things bubble up and have valid state info!) but its greatest flaw is being very easy to develop in poorly. Sort oflike the applet problem mentioned earlier. Coding Swing UI's is far easier than Qt, MFC (shudder), ATL, etc in the Windoze environment (and to be honest, outside of Qt I have never used any *nix ui libraries, so dunno bout them, but point-of-fact *nixes they are 99% irrelevent if the application has a UI).

        • While I agree 100% with your placing the blame for bad GUIs at the feet of the programmers responsible for them, you sidestep the biggest problem with Swing: it pushes the bit level rendering WAY too far down in the call stack. Importantly for any form of Unix it pushes the widget to pixel translation *across* the X client/server gap! Yes, that's right, xscope any swing app and you get to watch the app push entire panel bitmaps across the wire, every refresh. In the windows world this isn't too much of a problem, because you almost always have direct hardware access to the video memory to draw into, but with X it's DEATH to performance. :(

          Happily I've heard rumours that IBM has put a LOT of effort into fixing this for the next version of Java.

          This bit of silliness was in the guise of providing a "common user interface" across all platforms, so that the XYZ ap running on Linux and on AIX and on Windows all looked and feeled exactly the same way. The stupidity here of course is that it now no longer resembles any other app on the box, and instead of providing the user with a tool that blends into everything they are used to on the machine you've provided them a tool that they don't understand.

          In this regard AWT got it RIGHT, abstract the native platform's windowing toolkits. That way your (the programmers') choice to use java doesn't have any impact on the end user's experience... they don't have to know that your application is written in java, they just know they are running "OurShinnyNewApp" and it looks and feals just exactly like "OurRustyOldApp".
    • by Curt Cox ( 199406 )
      Does anyone else have an opinion on the suitability of Java in medium (Limewire) to large (thinkFree's product) desktop applications?

      Yes, Java is suitable for large desktop applications. I write them for a living, so I am somewhat knowledgeable, but quite biased. Although, what do you mean large? jEdit? Forte?

      There are lots of ways to produce Java desktop apps, but since the original subject is ThinkFree, I'm only going to address Swing based apps.

      Suitable in what way? Good coding habits, a roadmap for what the app should do, a complete understanding of the Java language, and a good knowledge of whatever Java APIs you will work with, are all very helpful if you want to produce a maintainable and reliable app. If you satisfy all of these requirements, you should be able to produce a desktop app that does what you want quickly.

      I firmly believe "Make it work, then make it fast". Proper use of interfaces in Java is the key to turning a working implementation into a fast implementation.

      Other than a moderate start-up cost, if a Swing based application is slow, that means that fixing bugs and adding more features has been more important to the developers than making the application faster/more responsive. Swing apps are very easy to develop, so Java is very suitable in that sense.

      A very usable profiling option is available under java in all recent (1.2+?) JDKs. If a Swing app isn't fast, it hasn't gone through any iterations with a developer interested in making it fast.

      Swing is single-threaded, and sometimes multilple threads are essential for responsiveness. I don't know of a language with better threading support than Java, but a multi-threaded program is generally harder to write and debug than a single-threaded one.

      • Re:I'm underwhelmed (Score:2, Interesting)

        by RatOmeter ( 468015 )
        I'm beginning to see the light. 'til now, I'd only seen a very few (or recognized as such) real Java desktop apps. Poking around at Swing Sightings [], I was surprised to find quite a few Java/GUI apps that look like fairly heavy hitters. I still have some reservations about the throughput of a busy Swing desktop application, but now I'm going to shut up until I've tried out a few more (IDEA [] looks good).
    • As someone who writes large Java applications for a living, I could not agree more. Java is buggy, but most of the bugs are relatively minor. The bugs would not even be an issue if Sun was to open up the code to the Open Source Community.

      At any rate, Java serves a purpose of write one, run anywhere. In my experience, it does this well. The trade off is speed, and responsiveness. In the business I'm in, where we do have to run on many platforms, and we are not writing with the general desktop user in mind, this loss of speed is not a problem. However, A product such as an Office Clone, that will be used by the masses, may infuriate people if the responsiveness is lacking.

      I personally stay away from Java Applications because they seem clumsy to use. I'm such a hypocrit for say that since I love to write in Java, but hate to use it.
  • Office (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tbx2000 ( 571687 )
    I dont fancy their chances of success. Its gonna be pretty hard to charge for an inferior office package, just ask the many fallen along the wayside in the past (smartsuite anyone?)
    The real competetion to the Microsoft juggernaut in this sector has gotta be opensource, and more importantly, free (as in, free beer :) and good. No point in raising awareness of a Microsoft compeditor, if the compeditor doesnt have a good supporting case. It only makes M$ look good.
    • The real competetion to the Microsoft juggernaut in this sector has gotta be opensource

      And it will be. It doesn't help though when people write articles and say things like this:

      The open-source world has produced a few free Office-compatible suites, but they, in turn, don't run on either Windows or the Mac OS.

      That's just not true! I'm using Open Office at home on Linux, at work on Windows, and I think they have a Mac version coming along. You would think a reporter would do a little research before writing an article like this. It seems he just needed something quick to meet his deadline so he went out and found some half-ass office suite to bash.

    • Why is it called ThinkFree when it's not free?
    • Has anyone else tried HancomOffice []?

      It is a non-java MS Office clone that seems excellent from what I've seen so far. And it's less than $50! (It used to be less than $30!!) I haven't used it very much yet (I'm not much of an office software kind of guy; I'm a geek) but it seems stable and it has correctly understood every MS format file I have tried to use with it. It supports MS Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.

      It's a Qt based application; works great on KDE.

      No, I'm not associated with them in any way other than having used the software.

  • Hey - what a great way to advertise your product. Just get an article posted on Slashdot, and instantly get a few hundred thousand hits on your site!

    (I wish them the best, though between MS, StarOffice, OpenOffice and many other less known Open Source alternatives, they've got a long hill to climb to get a foothold in this marketplace.)

    • It's not really that great of an advertisement. It's more like "Get an article pointing out many flaws and bugs about your product on Slashdot, and get your sight slashdotted in the process." Not really that great of a situation.

      Though, it is considerably cheaper than Microsoft Office. If they can work out the bugs and slight incompatability problems, it would be a good thing. Especially the problems with printing. What company can get by without being able to properly print out their documents?
      • Who was it that said, "There's no such thing as 'bad press'?"

        Seriously, what I want is something that can open a Word doc email attachment, without taking forever to start up like StarOffice, and doesn't mutilate the format like AbiWord. Probably 90% of the time, I don't need to print things, but just have to be able to read what's in the attachment.

        That being said, AbiWord still does a "good enough" job, so it would be hard to rationalize paying real $$$ for another marginally better alternative. On the other hand, if I can install on multiple machines... it might still be worth it!

      • Though, it is considerably cheaper than Microsoft Office. If they can work out the bugs and slight incompatability problems, it would be a good thing. Especially the problems with printing. What company can get by without being able to properly print out their documents?

        Once again, I would recommend AppleWorks 6 from (surprisingly enough) Apple Computer. It's import and export features are good enough that everyone at work thinks I'm using MS Office, and the Mac/Win combo CD is only 39 dollars at the Apple store for Education online.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ten years ago there where lots of alternatives to MS Office but they all died because MS Office in the end turned out to be the better one.

    These products are to cheap for their makers to be able to compete, you need lots of money to keep a big professional staff working on it and you need lots of income to finance good marketing. With $50/license and likely not to many buyers I just can't see how they are going to be able to pull it off?

    I wish them luck but it will not be easy.
  • Alternatives (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 07, 2002 @09:47AM (#3298803)
    There are a list of alternatives at []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 07, 2002 @09:47AM (#3298804)
    The worst part about all these MS Office competitors is that none of them are as good as MS Office. I use Linux exclusively (and have since around 1997) but I'd have to say without a doubt that the application I miss most has got to be Microsoft Word.

    I know the slashdot sentiment is to hate on all things Microsoft, but it's easy to use and does damn near everything you'd want it to. Star Office and the rest just really aren't as nice.

    I guess Linux isn't as polished, either, but when I'm developing, I prefer Linux to Windows by far. But when I'm writing, I prefer Word to anything else. Oh well.
    • Never fear, Whine is here! You can have your Linux and eat your Words! {Whats Half Implemented, Never Executes?)

      Personally, I feel that with every release, MS Word gets worse! I only wish there was something else. Unfortunately, his does not look like the answer to my prayers.

    • I guess you do not have time to test Office really good. However you turn around OpenOffice does make you finish job much sooner than M$.

      I use Office on a daily routine, and to admit at first I was missing some things. Then I found out that this things are not missing, but hidden. As soon you come to point where they could be used, they pop up. Much better than word or excel that throw everything in your face.

      I've been using M$Office and never got use more than 15% eventhough I wanted (either thing is not working or is made too stupid to be used).

      The moment I started to use OpenOffice I was using about 2-3% of functions. In just two months I've come to a phase that M$ user could only dream on. Office can be fun.
    • I know the slashdot sentiment is to hate on all things Microsoft, but it's easy to use and does damn near everything you'd want it to.

      Actually, this is the leading problem with Office in my opinion. It does TOO much of everything. I think it's pretty safe to say that the overwhelming (not just the average) majority of MS Office users use about 1% of the suite. And that's all they need. And that's assuming they use all the applications in the suite. The problem is that there's no way to get Office (Works is just horrible) or even Word without the other 99% of the crap that MS has thrown in to "encourage" people to upgrade. This has lead to a suite that requires hundreds of megabytes of hard drive space. Yes, I'm aware at how cheap HDs are now, but no matter how much free space I still manage to hang onto, it doesn't help with the speed of the applications and their effect on the speed and resources of the OS. Why should I have to install all of that crap just to bang out a letter or a memo? All I want in a word processor is basic page control, spell check, thesaurus (maybe), and filters for any other format of document I suppose I might encounter. Right now, I do most of my WP in AbiWord. It does everything I need from a word processor and it's not as bloated as Word. Even it's too big, though. Excellence! for the Amiga fit on one DD floppy disk and it worked great.

      The other issue I have with Office (and Windows, for that matter) is that with eace new release, stuff moves. I don't have a problem with changing the location of something to enhance usability, but it seems like the only motivation tha MS has for moving menu items or acces to features is to keep people buying Office help books (you know, the books that have the information that the user manuals USED to have, not that I read User Manuals, ahem, cough, cough). It's really irritating. If you're supporting three versions of Office (97, 2000, XP) or Windows (98/Me/2000/XP), it's nearly impossible to keep track of where MS hid the access to the same features across each version. Craziness.


      • Actually, this is the leading problem with Office in my opinion. It does TOO much of everything. I think it's pretty safe to say that the overwhelming (not just the average) majority of MS Office users use about 1% of the suite. And that's all they need.

        So true...but so many are afraid to admit it - it's kind of like a drug addict admitting that he/she really has a problem.

        But, to be fair, there are some practical issues as well. One of the THE most important aspects of ANY competing product is document compatility. This is a tall order, but compatibility should be seamless. If the anti-trust suit against M$$$$ should have produced anything, it should have been an order that MS publish its document specifications, so that the market CAN have alternatives.
    • I guess Linux isn't as polished, either, but when I'm developing, I prefer Linux to Windows by far. But when I'm writing, I prefer Word to anything else. Oh well.

      Try the Linux version of WordPerfect []. It works quite nicely.
  • by xiaix ( 247688 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @09:48AM (#3298806) Homepage
    I have evaluated every office suite that I have come across that provides an 'alternative' to office. So far the only one that has come close has been StarOffice 6. It seems there is always one vital feature lacking that keeps me from going to management with a proposal to standardize on (insert alternative here).

    Either the max. spreadsheet is abysmally small (8k-16k rows), or there is no cross-tab reporting functionality, etc.. There is always something

    I know that playing catch-up with Microsoft is a losing battle, but some features are essential. If it is available in Lotus, WordPerfect, and MS Office, you can be pretty sure there will be people who can not work without it.

    I'd love to switch to a Microsoft free shop, but until I can go to management with solutions to every problem, and assurances that no functionality will be lost, I can't. Office suites are only one battle in the war, but it is one I should be able to win...

    • I agree somewhat, but not everyone needs all the applications in Office. Most people only use Word and (shudder) Power Point. Then there are the number crunchers who do EVERYTHING in Excel. Writing a memo - Excel. Keeping track of inventory - Excel. One hurdle is to get people to use the applications in the manner they were designed to be used. That said, would it be too much trouble to get someone to write a modular office suite? You know, a suite that has the bare essentials and then offers plugin features. You could charge a minimal fee for the basic suite and then a smaller charge for each feature that the user needed. I'd like a WP that just let me write a fricking letter. Then, if at some point down the line, I needed the ability to graph stuff and draw widgets (not that I would EVER use a WP for such a thing... that's what illustration applications are for), I could pony up a couple of bucks for those features and download them and plug them into my current setup. This seems so obvious to me with the bloat that's crept into MS's (and, to be fair, almost every other) office suite. Just a thought.


    • Have you tried selling the management on converting a small portion of the shop to StarOffice, as a trial thing? Maybe attacking it piecemeal is the best solution here.
  • ThinkFree better have some good advertising or word of mouth to topple the MSOffice giant. I don't know if cost is a big issue for businesses that buy MS software the way mainframe people (used to?) buy IBM. The Corel Wordperfect Suite didn't cost much more than ThinkFree and where is it now?

    And on a related note I'm proud to say I've never used MSWord, although I will admit to using Excel...

    • I think the whole "ThinkFree Office" product is just a tag to lure you to their "CyberDrive" product. Their "20-megabyte Web file-storage service" is free for one year, then $30 anually thereafter should you continue to use it. And I think it's a product (web-based storage) that, in one form or another, has been tried and failed earn a profit (think X-drive). I very dubious about web storage as a product for a couple of reasons:

      . security. Let someone else store my (potentially private) files and trust them to keep grubby cracker fingers out of it?
      . I've got a 120 GB drive in my desktop at work, 80 GB at home and 30 GB in my notebook, what would I need 20 MB for?

      I wish them luck, but a $50 productivity suite and a $30/yr 20MB storage service? I'm afraid they'll need to sell a shitload of each to do well.
      • . I've got a 120 GB drive in my desktop at work, 80 GB at home and 30 GB in my notebook, what would I need 20 MB for?

        Lets not forget my MP3 player doubles as a 6Gb USB hard drive, supported by Mac OS 9/X, Linux and even any version of Windows that supports USB.

  • it runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux. and the needed specs dont seem to be to high..

    Maybe i will try it later on..

  • by 3-State Bit ( 225583 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @09:55AM (#3298824)
    anyone know why people would normally pay cyberdrive for 20 megs of web storage, when yahoo gives you 30 megs [] for free?

    Oh, and
    Point 1: "Connect to Briefcase from your Windows desktop with the Yahoo! Drive Client. Drag and drop or save files directly to Briefcase from any application." (same page).

    Point 2: on Linux you'd get the same functionality without running a foreign exe to modify your OS [!], but rather by mounting a ten-line Perl script of your own design, to proxy the http connection as though it were your web browser.

    Point 3: This, incidentally, is why people use Windows.
  • by ReadParse ( 38517 ) <`john' `at' `'> on Sunday April 07, 2002 @09:56AM (#3298828) Homepage
    Maybe they ought to call themselves "ThinkFiftyDollars"... their name kind of suggests that it's free!

  • by cheekymonkey_68 ( 156096 ) <<ten.ku.urugbew> <ta> <dcma>> on Sunday April 07, 2002 @09:58AM (#3298832)
    I wish that the industry would get together an agree a usable file format that would be supported by all document processors even if they just settled on some SGML based format such as Xml.

    Hmm imagine if every word processor used Xml for storage...that would be miles better than having every business use Word.

    Look at WordPerfect, look at Lotus Word,they were both excellent word processors and the market leaders and look where it got them...

    Microsoft eroded there market share using its by now commonly known tactics.

    The problem is, right now we have Word and Pdf as being the only file formats of choice that are universally accepted.

    Pdf is ok, but again the file format itself is proprietary

    Word is especially bad not so much for its bloat, but for the bugs that never get fixed and worse of all Microsofts habit of changing the format frequently

    • What's wrong with RTF? It looks nice, and it works in almost everything.
      • Theres nothing wrong with Rtf pe se, its just that often people save Word documents as 'rtf' that only are only readable to other people with Word.

        As of course Microsoft in its infinte wisdom has its own interpretation of Rtf and its not completely compatitble.

        I was only arguing for Xml as an example, the problem is Microsofts stranglehold over the file formats.

        There should be one format that covers all the basic features required of a word processor that all Word Processors should be able to save to exactly, with no 'adjustments' to the standard (Yes that means you Micro$oft).

        The problem is getting everyone to agree to a baseline of features, having them accept a format that will all implement the same (yes even Micro$oft) and having the format agreed and specified without it looking like its been designed by a committee (The Motif syndrome)

      • What's wrong with RTF? It looks nice, and it works in almost everything.

        awhile ago there was a comment by an office worker who simply could not find anything better than ms word to keep versioning, and a consistent presentation. To the point that she used filters to modify word files as word files, even though she was working on linux.
        Honestly, the reason you'll see some things online only in 1) post-script 2) pdf, is because nothing else "guarantees" the look you want. I wouldn't be surprised if the same rtf file paginates to whole pages more or less than the "original", depending on your client, printer driver, etc.
        Basically, from what I understand, RTF isn't much better than HTML. Sure, my resume is in HTML: but I don't care if the text looks different on my potential-employer's computer from my own. This would be a different story if I were preparing a complex item to present (think complex interaction of columns, headings, inserted pictures with captions, everything only looking "just right" after major tweaking of 0.5 font points in order to fine-tune the /exact/ result: major disaster if your client has a different idea of how the document "should" look, based on the RTF "description".)

        One last thing: this is also why people who research the question further than the woman I quoted above /always/ end up biting the bullet and learning LaTeX (or however the capitalization goes.) It separates content from presentation, and guarantees you presentation. Basically, it's like "post-script" above, only human-editable : it was designed as a type-setting language (for equations and such) but has grown to be the only open, not-subject-to-change, not licensed (unlike PDF, from what I understand) standard, besides post-script, that people use to fix an exact "look" without having to result to a screen-capture of print preview.

        I haven't looked at all this in detail, however, and could be wrong.

        This is an important question though, so anyone who knows more than I do, please post your thoughts!
    • by Evro ( 18923 ) <> on Sunday April 07, 2002 @10:10AM (#3298863) Homepage Journal
      Pdf is ok, but again the file format itself is proprietary

      PDF is not proprietary; it is an open standard []. The problem with PDF is that it is not editable, so is not very useful for sending back and forth for editing purposes.
      • Yes, PDF is proprietary, unless you mean something other than what the rest of us English speakers mean when we say proprietary. According the specification that Adobe has released, "Adobe owns the copyright in the data structures, operators, and the written specification for the particular interchange format called the Portable Document Format. These elements may not be copied without Adobe's permission. Adobe will enforce its copyright."

        Adobe has simply chosen to give limited right to use copyrighted intellectual property and published the file format specification. Just because something has a published, publicly available definition does not make it an open standard. For instance, no one would call CIFS an open standard, even though Microsoft has chosen to give limited right to use copyrighted and patented intellectual property to some people.
    • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @12:02PM (#3299161)

      I couldn't agree more. I've thought this for a while and still don't understand why such an obvious thing hasn't happened.

      There are lots of office suites now available, both open source and proprietry. Some are very good. But everyone bitches that they can't shift Microsoft from its monopoly position. If they all got together and agreed to use a single format (Suns XML format for StarOffice/OpenOffice is a very good start) then we would quickly have hundreds of useful tools for manipulating document formats, and rather than chasing Microsoft's tail-lights, we would be setting the agenda and Microsoft might have to start following us or start to loose serious market share.

      I believe this issue is the single most important one for getting Linux onto the desktop. So, all you people who develop office suites - get together and agree on a single XML format which you'll all use! It will do you all good in the long term.
      • I agree, and the thing that irks me is even the Open Source office suites can't agree! OpenOffice, KWord, and AbiWord all use XML to store their files, but all have independant implimenations that are incompatable! Sure, having them Open Source and all makes filters better and easier to create, but why not just *agree* on a common format? It it really that hard to get together and come to an agreement?

    • Wordperfect killed themself. Anyone remember the first WP versions for Windows? They were absolutely TERRIBLE. Extremely buggy..not just little bugs, but big show-stopper bugs. Until then WP was THE word processor.
    • The reason we don't have a common file format is that software makers don't want it. It's the main hook that keeps people locked into using a particular program. And before you unleash all your wrath on Microsoft, keep in mind that every other major player has been doing the same thing all along- Lotus/IBM, Wordperfect, Adobe, etc. Wordperfect and Adobe originally went even further, with their proprietary fonts. Things would be a lot different if these companies hadn't been more stingy than Microsoft to begin with.
    • Although it would help if there were some more or less standard file format for documents, the central problem is that the various word processor software writers have implemented vastly different document models. The file formats reflect this model. Even if Microsoft and WordPerfect and Sun and whoever else agreed upon a standard file format, it would still be nearly impossible to accurately import complex documents from one word processor to another, because for some features in one document model, it's virtually impossible to represent that feature correctly in another's document model. That's the biggest hurdle, and that is not going to change any time soon.
  • Office suites (Score:2, Insightful)

    by olman ( 127310 )
    Sign of times, surely. Old Office suites are into nth generation and they've accumulated so much excess baggage that something written from scratch can actually compete.

    From the article, it seems that this particular one is not quite ready for prime time yet. It's ok if the feature count doesn't include the kitchen sink, but what there is has to work. Especially if anyone would consider using it for work.

    I suppose there will be the open-office people coming out of woodwork again. As if $50 would be excessive cost for a word processor, spreadsheet and an app to make simple slides. It is excessive if the apps do not quite work, like it says in the article.
  • Sort of useless as an 'office suite' in the 'real' business world with out those..
  • In addition to buggy software they are going to suffer from a marketting angle. If you have to pay for software, even if only a little, does "ThinkFree" really rub you the right way? And it doesn't have a great ring, nothing as simple as "Word", encoraging as "WordPerfect", or powerful as "StarOffice".

    Also, the article said it lacks "the feature that flags possible misspellings". Does this mean no spell checking at all!? Or just the inline checking as you type? Lacking something as simple and basic as a spell checker is almost unforgivable. If it lacks as-you-type checking, I wonder if that could be a patent issue. I wouldn't be shocked.

  • Journalists!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tim Ward ( 514198 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @10:00AM (#3298839) Homepage
    That doesn't sound like a huge gap until you notice that -- oops -- the 1.7 version of ThinkFree Write has no word-count function.

    I learnt many years ago that if you want a decent review of your word processor you MUST include a word count function.

    Sure, the word count function is, for 99% of users, just bloat that they are never going to use, but reviewers get paid by the word for writing their reviews, and naturally try to write their reviews using the word processor under review, so if you don't include a word count function the entire review consists of a whine about the missing word count function.

    (The same reviewer, oddly, seems to think that a missing spelling checker is no big deal. That's fair enough if s/he is a properly trained professional journalist and never uses words s/he can't spell and never makes typing mistakes, but for the other 99% of us ...)
    • The people who do a lot of writing, and subsequently need more than wordpad or kate, need 3 basic features: wordcount and endnotes/footnotes, and spellcheck. Why? Because the people who do a lot of writing tend to be either students, academics, or professional writers.

      If a wordprocessor can't do those 3 things it is useless to me.
    • Not all publishers pay by the word anymore. That encourages page bloat. Instead, many will pay by the article and say "write between 600 and 800 words" or something like that. All of my freelanced articles were paid by piece, not by word, with different rates for different sized articles (1pg vs 10pg).
  • The open-source world has produced a few free Office-compatible suites, but they, in turn, don't run on either Windows or the Mac OS.

    Hmm... let's see. OpenOffice for one. It's running quite happily on my Windows machine here. Only gripe I've ever had with it was it's conversion to StarOffice files so I could print them out on my Uni's printer (didn't handle the page margins, but I've never worked out how to get that sorted with StarOffice anyways)
  • Glowing review? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shic ( 309152 )
    If that review was glowing... I'd hate to receive a scathing one!

    The sad fact is that office applications are the most vital component of a business system. If someone intends to take the office application monopoly from MS, it is insufficient to be "almost as good" some of the time... there needs to be some dramatic benefit. I hope this will eventually arise in the form of a suite of productivity programs offering all the desirable features of recent MS Office suites but also offering a level of guarantee that the software will not become obsolete due to future enhancement of others' systems.

    Competitors need to look at producing a reliable, functional, easy to use, feature rich alternative - as far as I'm aware that hasn't happened as yet.

  • One of the main arguments against Office seems to be that it is bloated. Truth is that customers don't care about bloat. As long as it will run on their system it isn't an issue. However removing even one feature that they sometimes use is a major issue. To beat office you would need something more bloated that office. Even then the installed base and the bundling with new hardware would probably kill your chances. Open Software that doesn't care about making a profit is the best change in the long run.
  • " people realize that Microsoft is not the only option."

    Yet when Microsoft moves Office XP to a subscription-based model (yes, yes, I know the XP subscription plan has been delayed in the USA [] [strange looking URL, but it does work], but it IS avaliable in other [] countries []), like ThinkFree already uses, I'm sure Slashdot will be the first to proclaim it as the beginning of the end.

    • I see from one of your links that the annual subscription rates are (NZ dollars) Microsoft Office Professional Subscription - $439 and Microsoft Office Small Business Subscription - $299.

      Would someone please explain to me how this is more cost-effective than simply buying the suite and using it for even as little as TWO years??

      • Its not. But, if you are like a lot of people who would like to be "up to date" all the time, its not all that bad.

        Lots of places like to keep Office at the most recent version. If you are one of those places, this will be a predictable way to keep your expenses flat over a long period of time. See, you spend $439 (NZ - looks like about $200 USD) a year and get a new version every other year. That means each version costs you $400. Now, alternatively, right now you can buy office for like $800 USD or something (more or less depending on source and flavor, I believe in volume that number is closer to $500). If you hold onto that software for 10 years you annaul cost is $80 - much higher than the subscription cost. If you hold it for 12 months, then well, you should have subscribed.

        MS is taking a risk for sure. Some people will love the subscription (lower upfront costs, predictable pricing for an extended time period, and you finally get off the upgrade treadmill). Large organizations especially will like this. Small organizations, many of whom run on the Win95/Office95 platform still to do this day (and do so pretty well, btw) will not be impressed.
  • The bank I work for every year has an alternative examination in which we bitch about what it costs to stay with Microsoft. We recently thought that we could escape it by switching to Citrix, and only buying a few Office licenses with a software metering system. Microsoft has changed their rules on this again, and if the client has access and ability to Office, they need a license. I have suggested StarOffice (that is what I run on the only Linux client in the bank), but it is hard to get people to focus on anything but Microsoft. I counter every objection:

    We want a commercial alternative StarOffice is commercially available from Sun.
    Training is an issue Hardly anyone uses all the features of Office, and StarOffice mimics Office almost perfectly (at least Office 97, which we run)

    By the end of the meeting, the answer is to stay with Microsoft for no good reason -- does anyone else experience this?

    • Yes I deal with it.
      CAD software is a biggie in Automotive.
      They (Pick one, GM, Ford whoever) say "As of this date we will use X Package version X.X.X.
      And thats it, you must submit CAD files in that format using that version of the software.
      It is a pain, but that is the way it is done.

  • According to the article,

    "The open-source world has produced a few free Office-compatible suites, but they, in turn, don't run on either Windows or the Mac OS."

    But sir, I beg to disagree.

    Both StarOffice (and its open source counterpart, OpenOffice) run on Windows, Linux and Solaris.

    AbiWord, everyone's favorite lightweight word processor, runs on Windows, Mac OS X, XDarwin, FreeBSD, Linux and any other version of Unix.

    So get your facts straight before jumping to conclusions =)
  • by dgroskind ( 198819 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @10:56AM (#3298966)

    The article lists some basic MS Office features and says: It's a waste to use $480 worth of Office suite for such simple work.

    It depends on how important the work is. A PowerPoint sales presentation may be worth thousands of dollars in sales, an Excel spreadsheet could manage a large budget, a Word document could be a report on an important project or a book manuscript. Any one of these examples would be worth more than $480 by itself. In fact, the time spent creating the document would exceed $480 many times over.

    If what you do with an office suite isn't worth $480, maybe you should do something else that is.

    • As a technical writer/editor/publisher who routinely deals in thousand-page documents, I'd never risk relying on Word. It's just too unreliable. Word is fine for letters, routine reports, and college term papers, but real pros use Framemaker, or Unix tools like Tex/LaTeX.

      Yeah, I know, a lot of pros do use Word, but their publishers waste an awful lot of time and money fixing the inevitable problems.

    • Poppycock. Pure marketing drivel.

      Let's look at the statement in context, shall we?

      Consider the Office files I used to test ThinkFree's compatibility -- documents I've received in e-mail from friends, co-workers, contributors and publicists over the past few years.

      Most of the Word files would have looked no different as "rich text format" documents. Nearly all of the Excel files were nothing more than glorified tables. Almost every PowerPoint presentation amounted to a minimally illustrated, bullet-point list, and some only consisted of a single graphic on a page.

      It's a waste to use $480 worth of Office suite for such simple work. But it's not a surprise either. To paraphrase what others have said: When Microsoft Office is your only hammer, pretty much everything begins to look like a nail.

      The point is that a vast marjority of documents are actually very simple and do not require the features of Microsoft Office to produce.

      Sure. These documents may have a lot of value. And a smart business will pick tools that enable their people to produce those documents. There are certainly cases where Microsoft Office's features justify the price. But just because a document is valuable does not mean it requires expensive tools to produce.

  • I get it. The review was scheduled for April 1, but his editor made him use this word processor to write it, and it was a little SLOW. . .
  • Not only (Score:2, Informative)

    by RageMachine ( 533546 )
    Not only does it require java, which is quite sluggish on 600mhz, but it also installed itself ,without asking, directly to C:. I don't use C for anything but the OS. I wanted it installed to D:\Program Files where I keep everything organized, and away from the OS. It was uninstalled immediatly.
  • "it's no StarOffice" so in theory it should load in reasonable time? oh wait its written in java so scratch that idea
  • A recent PC Magazine article (on line at,2997,s=1739&a=24249 , 0.asp , but note that Slash might mispost the URL so look under "reviews" ) reviewed several Office alteranatives, including Think Free. They didn't love it but did't hate it. Several other options, including Gobe Productive (now available for Windows), are also reviewed.

    Oddly, their favorite was Corel Word Perfect Office 2002. They gave it five stars. But of the reader reviewers, one gave it five stars and the rest only ONE star (awful). Reason: Buggy as hell. Plus it took away some user control in favor of MS-like automation, which is not the way WP users like to operate.

  • Its good to know that there are many office suite options available in the market. Lets take as an example the processor market, both AMD and Intel are building better and better processor so they can take each other market shares... who wins? The users of course cause we are getting better and better products... the same is going on on office suite market, with more products available developers will build better software to gain user attention and we are going to win a lot with that cause well get better and cheaper softwares! :))

    thats why monopoly sucks so much!
  • pros: price, runs on all platforms
    cons: the program
  • "While it's no StarOffice, this glowing review may help people realize that Microsoft is not the only option."

    I guess that is the crux of the matter. Since StarOffice is superior, why would I pay for the Think Free Office suit unless Sun's new pricing scheme makes is a lot more expensive?

    The real things to consider are functionality, interoperability and price.

    Microsoft Office is known for having a lot of functionality. In my opinion it has WAY more then I need. For example, I hardly ever need to write a virus to destroy the piece of mind of the average computer user. I find that now days the entertainment industries are doing an adequate job by sending there paid flunky Politicians like Sen. Hollins and friends to screw over the American people. It would be a good thing to remove that man from the equation. (Vote him out. No violence please.) But I digress.

    StarOffice also has a lot of functionality and again, probably more than I need. If the price of StarOffice does not become prohibitive then really the only thing that concerns me is the interoperability issue.

    Unfortunately in order to be competitive an office suite must interpolate with what most people use. Whether official or unofficial there usually is a standard that most people use. One of the biggest issues that I have with Microsoft is that they try to set standards that are proprietary. If you will not or can not be compatible with that standard then you can't compete. Further, the only way that Microsoft can set proprietary standards is through the use of their Monopoly power. Times have changed and we need new laws that require that standards be open so that no large corporation can leverage their Monopoly power in the way that Microsoft does. Hmmm.. I seem to have digressed again.

    So, to sum it up. Unless StarOffice is way more expensive or the Think Free Office suite is superior in interoperability then I think I'll just continue to use StarOffice. Oh yeah... And Microsoft is an evil Corporation and Sen. Hollins is an asshole thinking only of his corporate benefactors and needs to go.
  • Honestly, if there is something I am willing to install to replace MS office it has to be OpenOffice. This is a true drag and replace version of the beast's best seller. The final release is going to amaze you if you don't know about it yet, give it a try.
    You'll never go back. Kinda like IE and Konqueror.

    PPA, the girl next door.
  • Apparently, this program does not provide a replacement for MS Access. That is the only thing that I need so I can replace all our windows desktops with Linux.

    We use Access to connect to MySQL for data entry. I do not know of a suitable replacement for Access.

    On my Linux workstation at the office, when _I_ have to do data entry(for some things, my boss won't trust anyone else... *groan*), I do it all with SQL commands... that sure is getting old.

  • This is interesting... Along with LimeWire and IntelliJ IDEA this might be my third Java-based desktop application.

    Maybe Java's ready for the desktop? If it's not, it's at least getting close with high-quality apps like these.

    And though it sounds like Marketing Hype, JDK 1.4 is amazing. I've played with BEA's Weblogic Workshop which uses 1.4 and its GUI is really great. Really good looking and fast as hell. There's a point in the article about how ThinkFree's Mac OSX version that's coming soon will use 1.4 and I'm sure it'll be rockin'.


  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @12:27PM (#3299250) Homepage
    More than any other single thing, Microsoft's monopoly relies on everyone else's inability to properly read Word files. That's the one big problem that has to be cracked.

    An agreed-upon public replacement for Word files would help, too. Probably something that's zipped XML. Then push to make it a formal standard, get government agencies to mandate it, and put a display engine for it in browsers.

    • Just do a compatible word processor? What a great idea! I can't believe that nobody [] though [] of that before.

      Do you think that 100% compatibility will be hard to achieve?

      Well, gotta go. I just had an idea . . . why don't I just invent an engine that runs on water and gives off cotton candy as exhaust?

      By the way, KWord [] uses gzipped XML as its file format.

  • Works was a light version of Office that never got much success, even though it wasn't bloated and it usually came free with new PC's. Why you might ask? Because Office had more features, even though they were never gonna use those features, people always want more.

    Take a look at Adobe Photoshop, it's bloated with features yet everyone use it for even the most simple graphic editing needs.
  • It's not free, it's not close to free! Of course so many companies think that if something is free, it's junk. No wonder we're in a recession.
  • Columnist replies... (Score:3, Informative)

    by robp ( 64931 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @03:53PM (#3300029) Homepage
    Thanks for the comments on my review (although I really didn't expect it to draw a mention here, as opposed to my piece on the CBDTPA [] a week ago).

    To answer a couple of points people have raised:

    * Spell-checking: ThinkFree Office has a spell checker, but it doesn't flag misspellings as you type them, Word-style. You have to invoke the spell-checker "by hand." (My editor was afraid my description here might not have been clear enough. Guess he was right :)

    * Importance of word count: Guilty as charged! I write for a living and I *need* this feature to do my job. Since a word count isn't exactly a difficult feature to support (as opposed to, say, revision tracking), I don't think it's out of line to expect it.

    * Other Office alternatives: I left out AbiWord because it is a) just a word processor, not a full suite, and b) it's OS X compatibility is only available if you install an X11 server, which is a lot of work to ask of a home user (the target reader for my column).

    I am planning on a review StarOffice whenever 6.0 ships, most likely as part of a comparison with OpenOffice.

    Any other questions, y'all know where to reach me...

    - R
  • by swagr ( 244747 ) on Sunday April 07, 2002 @11:45PM (#3301619) Homepage
    Well, there are several of premature remarks here. "Java is slow", "it's not free", "it's not Office/StarOffice/KOffice", etc...

    Just to let you all know. I actually tried it.
    I used it to whip up an updated version of my resume, and saved in in rtf, doc, and html. I then proceeded to open the doc and rtf in Word, and the html in various browsers, only to find they all looked exactly as expected.

    I thought that was rather nice.

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Paul Erlich