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ThinkFree's Office Alternative For Linux

Linux continues to make gains in the server area, but broader acceptance on the desktop has long been held back by a lack of business productivity applications.

ThinkFree hopes to change that with the introduction of ThinkFree Office 3, a low-cost alternative to Microsoft's market-dominant Office suite. The new Linux software is slated to be available by the end of this month at the company's www.thinkfree.com site.

The original ThinkFree application suite was released five years ago. Today, the company announced its latest version 3 in a Linux edition. In addition to a price of $49.95, ThinkFree is laying claim to having the best compatibility with Microsoft Office of any program to date for Linux, Windows and Macintosh users with an interface similar to Microsoft's. The software also imports and exports Microsoft Office files.

Sun Microsystems offers its StarOffice suite for both Linux and Solaris users and is considered to be the leading office productivity suite on those platforms, which total but a fraction of the larger PC market. StarOffice is based on the open source project OpenOffice.org. But TJ Kang, CEO of Thinkfree, said there are still compatibility issues that give his software an edge in appealing to less technical users.

"One of the major stumbling blocks for Linux desktop adoption by mainstream computer users was the inability to use Microsoft Office on the platform," Kang said in a statement. "Although OpenOffice is a feature-rich office suite that is equal to the task of Microsoft Office, the difference in the user interface, unexpected changes and the loss of information users may encounter when exchanging documents back and forth with Microsoft Office make it difficult for non-technical computer users to adopt OpenOffice."

Kang said his company has been approached by several leading Linux publishers to help accelerate market outreach to mainstream desktop users. He added that ThinkFree expects to announce several distribution deals with Linux publishers by the end of this summer.

In addition to its three main applications, Write, Calc, and Show, ThinkFree 3 includes Windows-compatible fonts for the Linux and Macintosh platforms, full-featured drawing modules for all three applications, a real-time spell checker, HTML and PDF export, support for WordML and SpreadsheetML, and multi-language support, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.

Headquarted in San Jose, Calif., the company became a division of Haansoft Inc., a publicly held company on the Korean stock market, in 2003.