During the last two years, eWEEK Labs has followed FN Manufacturing LLCs efforts to loosen Microsoft Corp.s grip on its corporate desktops. This particular eWEEK eValuation was designed to determine the viability of ThinkFree Corp.s ThinkFree Office 3 Server Edition at FN Manufacturing, including its compatibility with Microsoft Office.
The eVal took place in early December at FN Manufacturings Columbia, S.C., headquarters. Seventeen users (all employees of FN Manufacturing and its related companies who rely on productivity software at varying levels to fulfill their job functions) tested ThinkFree Office 3 Server Edition.
None of the users had previous experience with any version of ThinkFree. Some of the users, however, had participated in an eWEEK eValuation of OpenOffice.orgs OpenOffice.org 1.1.1 and Microsoft Office 2003, conducted on-site at FN Manufacturing in the spring of 2004.
The December eVal was administered by Ed Benincasa, FN Manufacturings vice president of MIS and an eWEEK Corporate Partner; Olivier Vanderstraeten, a network security administrator at FN Manufacturing; Graham Phillips, a network systems administrator at FN Manufacturing; and eWEEK Labs.
Also present were representatives from ThinkFree.
ThinkFree employees remotely installed a private beta release of ThinkFree Office 3 Server Edition onto a server at FN Manufacturing. The server, which FN Manufacturing IT staff built in-house, was armed with dual Intel Corp. Xeon 2.4GHz processors and 2GB of RAM. The system was running Novell Inc.s SUSE 9.3 Professional.
FN Manufacturing provided each user with Dell Inc. Precision M60 laptops with network connectivity. The laptops were running a variety of operating systems, including Windows 2000 and Windows XP, as well as SUSE 9.3 and Red Hat Inc.s Fedora Core 3. Users were asked to access ThinkFree Office 3 Server Edition on the network using either Microsofts Internet Explorer or the Mozilla Foundations Firefox Web browser.
All machines had Java Runtime Environment 1.5.0, Adobe Reader 7.0.5 and OpenOffice.org 2.0 installed. Microsoft Office 2000 was also installed on the Windows machines.
Benincasa created a test script that asked users to go through a series of actions that would test ThinkFrees ease of use as well as its ability to handle daily tasks. These tasks included modifying documents, saving a spreadsheet as a PDF and importing graphics into a word processing application.
While each user was asked to create new documents from scratch to test ThinkFree Office 3s features and usability, each was also invited to access his or her own documents on FN Manufacturings servers. This allowed the users to determine how ThinkFree Office 3 handled documents created using different versions of Microsoft Office.
Each user had 2 hours to work with ThinkFree Office 3 and was asked to recommend whether the product would be a viable productivity suite at FN Manufacturing. Each was also encouraged to report any issues that came up during testing and to provide feedback on how much training would be required should the ThinkFree Office 3 suite be deployed. Finally, users were asked to recommend design changes and enhancements to the ThinkFree product.
Each user was asked to keep in mind that the ThinkFree Office 3 product was still in beta (a gold version was not available at testing time) and was made aware of known issues that were expected to be resolved by the products final release (due this spring).
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at [email protected].