To me Java is one of the most exciting and promising technologies of the past few years, but it's potential hasn't been reached in a lot of circles yet, especially in the consumer field. ThinkFree Office is an exceptional implementation of Java, being a multi platform MS Office compatible office suite. It runs on Windows Mac OS 9/X and varying flavours of UNIX, thus parts of the interface may seem a little un-Mac like but when you?re developing cross platform certain compromises must be taken. ThinkFree Office runs on a Java Virtual machine so is on occasions slower and more sluggish than other applications. The Microsoft Office compatibility is extremely well implemented, with the application not only reading / writing office files but even the layout and look & feel is similar, right down to dialogue boxes with similar appearances. There are of course some features missing and documents don't render exactly the same way as in Office, but for a reduction of £300 you can't really complain. For example the ThinkFree Show templates are different from PowerPoint templates, probably for legal reasons (!), meaning that some of you files will have to reedited to suit, complex tables look a little different, which may present problems for some users. On the plus side ThinkFree Writes web publishing tools are in my opinion better than MS Offices, it produces cleaner code and has the ability to insert more advanced objects such as image maps. The Excel beater, ThinkFree Calc has all that you would expect, a complex array of calculations and formulae, the ability to create a multitude of graphs (Though losing Excel v.X's support for transparency). The PowerPoint type module, ThinkFree Show is again more of what you would expect, Slide templates, animations, but no QuickTime support unfortunately.

Technical features aside ThinkFree office is very attractive from a financial and practical viewpoint. The price includes a years access to your own personal 'CyberDrive', where you can store documents, download updates and even find copies of the application for download, should you need a copy wherever you are.

Thinkfree Office is an impressive and adventurous attempt at a difficult (And some say sown up) market, it lacks features that will matter to some but to most the ability to be able to read and write Office file formats and the ridiculously cheap price will be encouragement enough.

Published in MacHome magazine (US)