ThinkFree has launched ThinkFree NetBook - a trimmed-down version of its desktop office suite designed for mini laptops.

ThinkFree NetBook takes up just 70MB when installed, not including the 70MB Java 6 plug-in it depends on to run. According to managing director Edward Coloma, it will run as fast as the larger version of ThinkFree for regular PCs. It is hoped the software will jumpstart the company's flagging fortunes.

ThinkFree, which was first launched in 1999, was one of the first legitimate post-WordPerfect competitors to Microsoft Office. It was far cheaper than Microsoft Office and came in two flavours: on the desktop and, more radically at the time, via the web. However, despite glowing reviews, demand lagged. When interest in web-based Office-like suites finally caught up to ThinkFree, other competitors such as Google Docs and Zoho Office seemed to jump ahead, promising more powerful web-based collaboration and a big brand name (in Google's case) or a broader application suite (in Zoho's).

Microsoft Office 2007 takes up 1.5GB of disk space, although some of that can be freed up by deleting the original download package. For its size and licensing cost, few Netbooks are using Microsoft Office, according to Brad Linder, who tracks them in his Liliputing blog.

Instead, Linder said, many have turned to OpenOffice including Asus's market-leading Eee PC, Acer's Aspire One, Dell's Inspiron Mini 9, Everex's CloudBook and others.

OpenOffice requires 440MB of disk space on Windows, 400MB on Linux. That's less than a third the size of Office 2007, but six to seven times larger than ThinkFree.

Although they lack detailed statistics, officials such as marketing lead John McCreesh confirm that mini laptops have been "a huge help" in gaining market share. "As the PC market becomes increasingly price sensitive, and margins decline generally, we believe it is inevitable that vendors will turn to," he said.

"The small/simple computer market just happens to be the most price-sensitive place at the moment."

Even so, there is no effort under way today to create a mini laptop-sized version of, according to community steward Louis Saurez-Potts. "As with any open-source project, if there are people, and co-ordinated interest, we will build it," he said.

NEXT PAGE: Has ThinkFree left it too late?

ThinkFree has launched ThinkFree NetBook - a trimmed-down version of its desktop office suite designed for mini laptops.

Most attention has been focused on how to slim down operating systems such as the 1.5GB Windows XP for mini laptops. But every megabyte counts for mini laptops, and 500MB office suites can prove problematic when a Netbook holds as little as 2GB of data.

Indeed, many XP-based mini laptops today are shipping without an office suite at all, said Linder.

That's what ThinkFree is counting on. Fujitsu has already agreed to pre-install ThinkFree Netbook on mini laptops due to be arrive in Asian stores later this month. Coloma declined to reveal how much the Japanese firm is paying. (A regular ThinkFree licence is $49, or £30.) And ThinkFree has received a lot of inquiries from mini laptop vendors such as Acer, which was asking for a smaller-footprint office suite a year ago, Coloma said.

The question is, has ThinkFree, rather than arriving too early as it has in the past, arrived too late? "Nobody needs ThinkFree, because there are already plenty of alternatives," Linder said.

Coloma disagreed. He pointed to the software's flexibility: it runs on Windows XP , Windows Vista, Linux and Mac OS X, as well as on mini laptops using either x86 Intel processors or ARM ones. He also claimed that ThinkFree Netbook doesn't sacrifice any of the full version's major components - it has a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation creator - nor features, such as the ability to open and save files in all Microsoft Office formats, including Office 2007's OOXML formats (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx).

That trumps 3.0 in the key area of Office compatibility. OpenOffice 3.0 today can only open Office 2007 documents, but not save them.

With a productivity software market still dominated by Microsoft, Office compatibility could be the key differentiator for ThinkFree, Linder conceded.

"If ThinkFree can live up to that challenge, I think the company could make a compelling case that its software should be pre-installed on mini laptops and other computers," Linder said. "If not, it's just one more application in a sea of Office clones."