Newspapers Find Alternative to Microsoft Office

If you’ve known me very long, you know I’m a proponent of using quality products. Software is no place to pinch pennies when there’s a newspaper to get out. A lot of designers spend countless hours trying to complete a task with the wrong tools. There are times, however, when it makes sense to look for a less expensive alternative. Microsoft Office is a good example.

It’s next to impossible to get along without Microsoft Office these days. A lot of files arrive as email attachments in Microsoft Word format. Press releases often come in the same format. All most newspapers need to do with these files is open them to see if they’re worth using. We don’t use Word to lay out brochures or design newsletters. We’ve got QuarkXpress and InDesign for those tasks. At the same time, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay $499 for Microsoft Office when you only need it to read files from time to time. ThinkFree Office is one alternative.

ThinkFree Office is a suite of productivity applications which enable the user to open, edit and create files in various formats - including Microsoft Word. While the program is active, a floating palette presents ThinkFree’s applications, including Write (for opening and editing Word files), Calc (Excel files) and Show (Powerpoint files).

After installing the suite, I opened a Microsoft Word document in ThinkFree Write. I received an immediate warning that Write might not be able to import Word clipart, highlights and other features. I clicked “OK” and the file opened on the screen. The desktop looked similar to Microsoft Word. All of the text imported correctly, with fonts and styles matching the original Word document. I was able to edit the text and save the file in several formats including Word, Rich Text and HTML, among others. While working in ThinkFree Write, functions like text selection and formatting work very much like Microsoft Word. Word users will become frustrated by some of the differences, but most users will find that ThinkFree takes care of everything they need to accomplish with a Word file.

Like Write, Calc is made to open, edit and create Microsoft Office files. Calc’s features are very similar to Microsoft Excel. I opened an Excel file in Calc with no problems. The file appeared on my desktop as if I were working in Excel. I acted on a hunch and selected “chart” from the file menu. I was offered an assortment of chart types and styles. I selected a style and a pie chart appeared on the screen. Chart seems to work more like its Microsoft counterpart than either of the other two ThinkFree applications.

ThinkFree’s features might not be as savvy as Microsoft’s, but a lot can be said for spending $49 verses $499. The scroll bars and text tools can seem cumbersome to longtime Office users. The program reminds me of a lot of applications that appeared as shareware in the early 1990’s. Programs to open, edit and create lotus files seemed to appear daily.

While ThinkFree won’t put Microsoft out of business, it’s well worth a look for newspapers that need the ability to open Word files on several computers.

ThinkFree Office is available on both Mac and PC platforms. A free thirty-day version can be downloaded from www.thinkfree.com.
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