December 27, 2000, 12:03 PM — AS A COMPANY dedicated to providing as a Web service a set of productivity applications that are compatible with the file format used in Microsoft Office, ThinkFree.com has taken on one of the most ambitious software efforts in recent memory. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, company president Ken Rhie explains why he thinks his start-up company can succeed where other companies such as Lotus, Corel, and Borland have previously failed.
InfoWorld: What is it exactly that Thinkfree.com does that's uniquely different from companies that have tried to compete with Microsoft in this space before?
Rhie: At the 50,000-feet level, we're a killer app for the new paradigm that supports anywhere, anytime, any platform computing. From a technical perspective, we provide a 100 percent pure Java office suite that works on any computer platform that's accessible via an Internet connection. But we don't require the connection to be there at all times, because it works offline also. That means it looks like the old familiar application and it reads and writes all the familiar application formats, so there is very little pain of migrating to the new paradigm. But once you go there, there's a whole open set of new requirements that we meet that the old Windows applications could not meet.
InfoWorld: Such as what?
Rhie: I don't think people will be required to lug along a laptop unless they want to, and there are times when you really want to carry it. But we want to make computing and information and the associated collaboration ubiquitous, which is the root of the next paradigm shift.
InfoWorld: Does that mean you'll extend your software down to the PDA [personal digital assistant] level?
Rhie: We will do that. Today, we only focus on the actual computers, whether it's a laptop or a desktop. But we have built our service in such a way that we could extend to the bigger appliance market.
InfoWorld: What exactly does being Microsoft Office-compatible mean?
Rhie: First of all, we want to leverage the training and investments made by corporations and individuals, so our suite looks very similar to it. Secondly, functions and features are very, very much like Microsoft Office. Again, we want to make sure all your favorite features are still available. And finally, you can read and write directly to Microsoft file formats, so it's a transparent migration.
InfoWorld: But what happens if Microsoft decides to change the file format in a future release of Office?