Thinkfree is taking a multi-pronged approach to establish themselves as a credible alternative to Microsoft Office. They have an online edition, they have a desktop suite, they have an Android version, they have a MID version, they have a standard server edition, they even have an enterprise server edition with powerful collaboration features and they also expose a powerful set of APIs to be integrated with webmail, blog or groupware. Now, they also released a Netbook Edition with support for all major operating systems like Windows, Mac and Linux.
I find Thinkfree’s approach to be a bit confusing. Sometimes I find them like a deer in front of the headlights without much of focus and, at other times, I find them spreading their wings wider targeting audience from the lightweight consumer end to the high end enterprises. Right now, there is no clear leader in this space, which is the next iteration to the desktop world (where Microsoft was the undisputed leader in Office app space). We are at a point of time where both consumers and enterprises understand the huge value (both in terms of cost savings and powerful collaborative features) in the SaaS Office Productivity Apps but still have a strong reluctance to embrace the shift wholeheartedly. This reluctance has provided an opportunity for Microsoft to try and protect their cashcow by announcing plans to sprinkle their existing offerings with a diluted flavor of SaaS. In fact, Microsoft took a long time to even start doing these cosmetic adjustments. This delay paved a way for Thinkfree to make an attempt to target customers facing a dilemma in embracing SaaS. Thinkfree’s strategy is interesting but it is not clear whether it will be a successful one.
Anyhow, let us take a step back from this analysis and see the pros and cons of their recent release, Thinkfree Mobile Netbook Edition.
- Though lightweight compared to a full fledged Office Suite, it is well suited for people who have difficulty using applications served through their web browsers
- It supports all three major OS platforms. Windows, Mac and Linux. This is the only Office productivity Suite that supports all majors OSs apart from OpenOffice. Unlike OpenOffice, this suite is very light on computing resources so that users with less powerful laptops can also use the software
- Offers an easy way to sync with their online storage
- Well, in my opinion, such hybrid solutions are just short term solutions. Eventually, users are going to get comfortable with using applications through their browsers and SaaS is going to be a clear winner
- Since they also have their own SaaS offering, their desktop and hybrid products are integrated with only their offering. Not all users are interested in Thinkfree’s SaaS offering. Most of them are either with Google Docs or Zoho Suite (disclaimer: Zoho is the sole sponsor of this blog but it is my independent opinion) and there is no way to use Thinkfree products with these vendors
I am a strong believer in having several players in each space with some serving users in the long tail of the spectrum. So, Thinkfree will definitely have a market for their products. The only question is about the size of the market. Only time will tell about it.