Hotmail founder launches Live Documents

Sabeer Bhatia, the co-founder of Hotmail, has joined the rush to move office applications from the desktop to the web by launching a new productivity suite called Live Documents.

Like Google Docs and Microsoft's Office Live Workspace, Live Documents provides a web-based word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications that can be accessed from any platform.

But it also provides a toolbar for Microsoft Office 2000/XP/2003, and soon Open Office, that synchronises the desktop application and files created locally, with online files. You can edit documents offline in the Office suit, and they will automatically be synced with the Live Documents version. And this can be done with multiple PCs, potentially making it a handy way to synchronise files across computers.

Once a Live Document is created, it can be shared with any other internet user, enabling collaborative editing of files. Permissions can be set to specify who can view or edit a file, and all changes are logged and synced with the desktop.

A portion of Bhatia's share of the $400 million (195 million) that Microsoft paid for Hotmail a decade ago has funded the new venture. Bhatia said that it could save people the 200-300 cost of upgrading to Office 2007, because it mimics many of the new features for online and collaborative working.

"I believe that Live Documents does for documents what Hotmail did for email," he said.

Live Documents has advantages over Microsoft Office, according to Adarsh Kini, chief technology officer of Instacoll, Bhatia's new company. "From a technology and utility perspective, Live Documents offers two valuable improvements - firstly, it breaks Microsoft's proprietary format lock-in and builds a bridge with other document standards such as Open Office," he said.

Kaushal Cavale, the company's chief operating officer, added that Live Documents is designed to appeal both to Office users and to people determined to avoid Microsoft software. "Live Documents provides a sophisticated productivity and collaboration solution for both sets of users - people who want to completely avoid Microsoft Office applications and those who wish to continue working completely within these tools - and the real power of our solution is that it lets both sets of users work well with each other rather than create two silos working independently," he said.

A technical preview version of Live Documents is available from

Live Documents is free for personal use, but a commercial version will be released for enterprise use.