The makers of ThinkFree, which gives away online alternatives to Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, are planning to sell premium, Web-based software by the end of the first quarter of 2007. ThinkFree will charge between $5 and $10 per month for its premium online edition, letting you synchronize files saved to the Web with the work on your desktop. Does this mark the beginning of the end of the free ride for online software? Not really. ThinkFree's downloadable software will remain $50, while the current ThinkFree Online will become the Basic Edition and won't cost anything.
As other companies hawking online office software, such as Zoho, are building bridges to Microsoft Office 2007, ThinkFree seems to want its users to abandon Microsoft Office altogether in favor of its own suite. I wonder how well this strategy will work for ThinkFree. Its Java-based, online edition (left) has some great features, but it takes ages to open files. ThinkFree for the desktop is pretty good. It costs one-third of what the most basic edition of Office 2007 will cost, or one-eighth the fee for the beefier Microsoft Office Professional 2007.
However, if you paid ThinkFree up to $120 per year for the premium version that synchronizes files, then the total price of ThinkFree's desktop and online apps would surpass the $150 for Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 by $20. Instead, you could just make a practice of uploading your office work--at no price--from your desktop software to ThinkFree, Zoho, or Google Docs online. Would you pay for a service to synchronize your online and hard drive documents automatically--or would you rather skimp and just upload and download by hand?
On that note, building a bridge between the Web and your desktop seems like less work for a software company than reinventing an entire software suite. I'm still waiting to try Sharpcast's Project Hummingbird, which is due for beta testing early next year. This service is being built to let you synchronize all sorts of files--office work, photos, videos, and music. So far I like Sharpcast Photos, which lets you store pictures on its servers as well as on your desktop and handheld device. Edit a picture on your Windows Mobile 5 smart phone, for instance, and Sharpcast applies the changes everywhere else that image lives. Support for Macs rolled out to Sharpcast Photos this week, which offers a free trial until the end of January.