Look, we know we Aussies don’t have a big population compared to giants like the USA and China.

But we are people. We have feelings.

And we like things that are free.

Or seem to be.

Like ThinkFree Online, which is free – unless you happen to be Australian. In which case you have to deal with the big telco, Telstra, via its BigPond online service. If you aren’t a BigPond subscriber, tough.

How I discovered this was that I noticed today that Ismael Ghalimi, the authority on Office 2.0, uses three of the ThinkFree tools on a daily basis. That reminded me that Tris Hussey had enthused about ThinkFree a few months ago and had organised for me an invitation to test the ThinkFree Premium product he was using. As it turned out, I was not able to use that invitation, because I had problems with signing on and after a couple of emails from ThinkFree support asking me details such as what OS I had, I heard no more.

Life moves on, but I did think today, after spending some time on Ismael’s site, that it would be good to have another look.

Here’s what I saw at first:

Not just one “Free” – five (count ’em) “Free” things. Great!

And just to reinforce that, over on the right hand side of the screen was another declaration that this was free stuff.

OK, time to sign up.

Then look what happened. A notice that I’m being shunted off to BigPond.

And the message was unambiguous: ThinkFree Online is available as BigPond Office Online for BigPond Members only in Australia and New Zealand.

Huh? Just noticed – they dropped the Kiwis in too. What did they do to deserve that?

More out of curiosity than any vain hope that there might be another story on the other side of the “Sign Up” page, I clicked the button.

Definitely no ambiguity there. “Only @BigPond.com and @BigPond.net.au email addresses will be accepted”. You’re not a paid-up BigPond subscriber, you don’t get to play with ThinkFree.

Well, I’m not about to switch my Internet access account over to BigPond just to try ThinkFree. So I guess I must wave goodbye to the opportunity to use this apparently quite excellent product.

Maybe ThinkFree could change the notices on their home page to say “Free…except for Australians and New Zealanders”.

‘cos if you have to have a BigPond account to access it, it ain’t free.

Or is this the model ThinkFree are using for the rest of the world – i.e those of us outside North America? A series of deals with local providers to lock up the service from anyone who isn’t one of their paid subscribers?

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