Live Documents enters the Office suite ring

Live Documents enters the Office suite ring

Summary: Sabeer Bhatia was the co-founder of Hotmail, the Web email service Microsoft acquired for $400 million in 1998. Now, Bhatia wants to bite the hand that fed him.


Sabeer Bhatia was the co-founder of Hotmail, the Web email service Microsoft acquired for $400 million in 1998. Now, Bhatia wants to bite the hand that fed him. He formed a new company, InstaColl, and is joining Zoho, ThinkFree, Google, Yahoo (Zimbra), Adobe and lesser know others in the effort to squish Microsoft Office with a new suite and complementary collaborative component, Live Documents.

Live Documents is a set of Flash-based Office 2007-like applications and also embeds collaborative capabilities and adds online/offline synchronization into Microsoft Office documents.

Bhatia said, "We are just a few years away from the end of the shrink-wrapped software business. By 2010, people will not be buying software. This is a significant challenge to a proportion of Microsoft’s revenues.”

His claim that no one will be buying shrink-wrapped software in a few years sounds like he is channeling's Marc Benioff, who has been making that call for several years. The idea of software moving mainly to the cloud and collaboration is a logical outcome based on what is going on today, but not in the time frame he suggests.

At this point the Office competitors are ankle biters, pesky critters getting Microsoft's attention but not affecting the bottom line. NPD reports that Office 2007 accounts for 17.4 percent of all PC software dollar volume and retail sales the suite are about double the rate of Office 2003 at a similar post-launch stage.

Google Apps has millions of users, but most are not paying or using it corporate settings. Google distribution partner CapGemini recently touted its first corporate $50 per user per year Google Apps customer--165 of its own users. Zoho has less than 500,000 users of its array of browser-based applications. Microsoft has hundreds of millions of Office users.

And, as I wrote earlier this week, the shift from shrink wrapped software to "live" services is not unknown to Microsoft. The company probably has something similar to what Live Documents has developed waiting in the wings for the day, or year, when the balance shifts and Google Apps or another suite becomes more than an ankle biter. For example, Microsoft is developing a Sync Framework for adding synchronization, roaming, and offline capabilities to applications, and using any data type, data store, transfer protocol, or network topology.

If Microsoft has its head in the sand, as Bhatia seems to think, then he may have another big payday ahead from Microsoft (he would have to recode the interface in Silverlight to make Microsoft happy). With the name Live Documents, it fits perfectly into Microsoft's "Live" world.

The key features of the ankle biters is that they are mostly free and built from the ground up for collaboration. Microsoft Office documents use the old email sharing model. InstaColl describes its offering as a "software plus services" value proposition, using Microsoft's way of characterizing its approach to marrying the client and the Web.

Following is a description of Live Documents:

Live Documents is a full-featured suite of online Office productivity applications offering functionality equivalent to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Built using RIA technologies such as Flash and Flex, Live Documents allow users to view and edit documents within any common browser on any operating system from anywhere. Live Documents uses a Flash-based user interface that offers a richer and responsive user experience that is comparable to native Office software applications.

In addition, Live Documents is available as a optional desktop client application that wraps around Microsoft Office and embeds collaborative capabilities into these hitherto standalone software applications - Live Documents converts Microsoft Office applications from static standalone software to smart clients that are connected to the Internet and facilitate in-context document sharing (multiple people can edit a document at the same time) and management (security, access control and revision control) without requiring users to give up their familiar user interfaces. The Live Documents desktop client also ensures offline access to documents - a key failing of current online Office applications.

The service is not live (you can request an invite, which I did) and the site doesn't contain any screen shots. It's not very credible to talk about breaking Microsoft's proprietary format lock-in and matches features found in Office 2007, which IntaColl CTO Adarsh Kini does on the Web site, without showing anything, not even a tour, of the service.

For reference, following are what the rest of the field looks like. ThinkFree, for example, has focused on being Microsoft Office-like in its appearance and features, while others, such as Google Apps, are taking a simpler approach currently, appealing to users who don't need the sophisticated features of Office. Zoho has build a vast suite of more than a dozen applications with increasingly sophisticated features. And all of the online applications providers are introducing offline capabilities. Zoho, for example, has already deployed Google Gears in Zoho Writer for offline usage and synchronization.

What's clear is that Microsoft Office is a justifiably huge target for competitors, a $16 billion business. Bandwidth, browser technology, development tools, infrastructure costs and user expectations are enabling more sophisticated applications to live on the Net.

Live Documents sounds like an interesting new entrant, especially the "embrace and extend" capability to make the existing Microsoft Office applications collaborative without SharePoint. We'll have to wait and see whether it can live up to the hype.

word03480.jpg Microsoft Word 2003

thinkfree480.jpg ThinkFree

zoho.jpg Zoho Writer

word11.jpg Microsoft Word 2007

googdocs.jpg Google Docs

buzzword1.jpg Adobe Buzzword

Topics: Apps, Collaboration, Google, Microsoft, Software

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  • Reminder...

    Sumanth from the Live Documents team here.
    Thank you for the post on our offering.
    Regarding your query on how our solution looks like, I guess you do not remember seeing us from DemoFALL 2007 when we previewed some parts of our service!
    In any case, you do make a good point - we will putting up screenshots and a tour of our service on our website as soon as we possibly can.
    • Tour

      Thx ....will look for the tour and invite...
    • Great to see another competitor in the area.

      We wish you luck!!!

      And, MS deserves to get their hand bitten. Great job.
  • Do Your Research

    As I mentioned in the bottom of my posting of "GMail hits 5GB":

    Microsoft doesn't have their head in the sand and is already on the road to have their online platform up and running. I find it hard to believe that another company will have better online integration with MS Office than Microsoft themselves.

    Max ... Out - free online blogging platform
  • Time to crush the wretched Bloatfarm!

    Let everyone cheer that we have great competition to determine how best to crush the infamous Redmond Bloatfarm; let everyone rejoice at the day when the rotted Washington dungheap is set, finally, to rest.

    It cannot come soon enough!
    Jeremy W
  • Cloud Computing Sucks

    I for one don't want to compute in the cloud. I deal
    with protected data and I want it to live on my
    computer. I don't want to deal with internet outages
    and places without wireless. Further, I am not alone.
    When I speak to business owner buddies, they don't
    want their data off in the cloud at the exclusive mercy
    of Google and similar corporations. The risk for a
    security breach is simply too big. Also, my trust of
    Google et. al. as "Don't be Evil" is eroding rapidly.

    Yet, developers don't seem to understand this. When
    trying to explain, I got in a big fight with a developer
    friend who was touting "software as a service"
    supported by fees or advertising as the best advent in
    computing... ever. Sorry, but... uhm wrong. There is
    not enough money in fees or advertising to support
    this pipe dream. I for one am not paying $50 per user
    per year to use an online collaboration app. In my
    office we have two computers running MS Office. It ran
    me $300 per computer. There are sixteen people who
    share those two computers and I plan on using MS
    Office for the next 5 or 6 years. $600/(5x16) = $7.50
    / person*years. Frankly, that's not bad.

    And if I don't want to use MS office, I've got
    alternatives. Ever heard of OpenOffice, or KOffice?
    They are both excellent suites which are progressing
    rapidly. I use both on various computers which don't
    need MS Office. As a result, I'm not going to be
    "forced" into Service Software anytime soon.

    So, in summary. Sorry, I won't be doing my office
    computing in the cloud any time soon. Companies
    which tout it aren't getting any of my money, time, or
    effort. On this, I think Microsoft, Adobe and Apple are
    right. Software + Added Benefit Services. It
    conveniently gives you the best of both worlds.
    Rob Oakes
    • RE:Cloud Computing Sucks

      <em>I'm not going to be "forced" into Service Software anytime soon.</em>
      But YOU will be <strong>"forced"</strong> into <strong>Vista</strong> sometime soon!
      FYI: SaaS is a choice, it's not needed for the operation of your computer.
    • I agree

      I agree in the strategy adopted by Microsoft. At someother point in the past too, I had mentioned the same - Client Software + added collaborative abilities as needed is the most advantageous proposition for the end users.

      And with Microsoft already having the Sharepoint it hadn't actually be missing anything as such except that it wasn't open to common public. For individuals and very small organisations, you cannot afford to go in for SharePoint services which may be very expensive. So if a service like SharePoint features were to be offered, I would certainly go for it. And Microsfot seems to be going this route, by announcing the Office Live WorkSpace. I am looking forward to it.

      Just wonder how these online collaborative suites, so many of them as Dan puts it in this blog, are going to survive and and really wondering at their revenue model when for most part they offer it free.
      Arun (sreearun)
      • you sound like...

        one of those persons how think the WHS is a "great idea" and Vista rocks, eh?

        [i]"...survive ... offer it free."[/i]

        It's statements like that is what give shills away.;)
        • No, Not Really

          Offering a service or product for free and relying mainly on ad revenue really, really reminds me of the dotcom bubble and burst.

          Do we really have to go through that again?
    • creating our own cloud computing


      Instead of worrying about OTHER companies hosting your data, how about we create our own cloud computing ?

      The software certainly is available
    • Complete agreement.

      I mean "hackers" steal information everyday. Heck a day hardly goes by that ZDNet doesn't report some massive hack and the loss of private information.
      • And, the ones most likely to get hacked are small to mid-size businesses

        that do not have the personnel to properly secure the servers and infrastructure.
        • Huh, have you not been watching the news?

          No, not small or even mid sized, some of the largest companies around the world.
      • The burden of proof is now on your shoulders .

        Please provide proof/links to your statement .
        • Maybe not ZD, but plenty of others....

          Maybe not ZD, but plenty of really really big orginizations have had problems with massive data theft. The VA, TJ Max, are two recent ones that come to mind that had people walk off with millions of peoples info.
        • Proof for who? You?

          Why would I waste my time? You think a Mac is a server.
    • I Agree - Cloud Comp. Overrated

      Our office has 200 machines... we do engineering. How much bandwidth does one need for 200 machines to access clouds off in the distance? 20KB / sec / machine ? that be 4000 KB / sec of bandwidth? does anyone have an idea of how much that costs a business currently? thats assuming you can find a communications company to provide that kind of bandwidth.

      If the internet is already being taxed for bandwidth how is cloud computing going to be effected?

      Sharing of information is important and vital to the successful operation of any business but relying on an internet connection for critical business information flow is financial suicide sooner or later.

      Add to the fact that critical data is stored outside the control and security of a company, I doubt very much that cloud computing offers any business so much value that we all stop buying shrink-wrapped apps.

      If this model is for home users or the odd independent user then fine. I imagine that most of the revenue generated by MS Office is not from Mom and Pop.
    • Cloud computing sucks

      You have hit that nail squarely [b]on the head!!!![b] There is [u]NO[/u] way in hell would I trust my data to some SaaS provider. My first question to those promoting 'cloud computing' and SaaS services would be; [b]"HOW much indemity insurance do you carry in the event my data gets stolen or corrupted???[/b] WHO will pay to have it restored??? I wonder where that is buried in the [i]fine print[/i] of their contracts.
    • Cloud Computing Sucks

      Soooounds like you run a 3rd world office. 16 people & 3 computers. Wow really into the productivity arena by the sound of it. DO U use both sides of the page when printing? How about phones is it one or 2?
      Maybe you can get onto the $100 laptop scheme? I've got a couple of old PC here that still work and I've got a CRT thats still works sort of. DO you want them -- you pay shipping. If you demand people take the $100 laptops with then to to the toilet and crank the charger you can get a more productive day!