The founder of the Hotmail webmail service, Sabeer Bhatia, plans to take on Microsoft and Google with an online office productivity suite.

Instant Collaboration Software Technologies, a Bangalore company co-founded by Bhatia, unveiled its Live Documents on Wednesday, an application that allows users to access and work on their documents online using a browser, and collaborate and share documents in real-time with others.

The software works with any browser that supports Adobe Flash and runs on any operating system, said Sumanth Raghavendra, chief executive officer of InstaColl.

See also:

Google Docs review

Google Spreadsheets review

Online documents can also be synchronised and worked with offline, using a desktop client that wraps around an office suite running on the desktop, Raghavendra said. Live Documents automatically synchronises all changes, the next time the user goes online. Users can work on the document in Microsoft Office when offline, for example, and then the document will be updated in Live Documents for online collaboration, he added.

The hosted service, which is currently available for technology preview at, is free for individuals but corporate users will have to pay. Corporate users can sign up for the hosted service, or run a licence of the software on an internal server within the company, Raghavendra said.

Live Documents uses Flash and Flex technologies from Adobe to provides users a better user experience than do the online office applications from Google, which are in essence stripped-down versions of Microsoft Office, Raghavendra said.

"Even power-users of Microsoft Office can use our service," he added. Microsoft will not sacrifice their desktop software licence business by offering a fully online office productivity service, which presents an opportunity for InstaColl, he added.

Bhatia, who shot to prominence after selling Hotmail to Microsoft for a reported $400m in 1997, told reporters in Bangalore on Monday that the new application addresses a bigger market opportunity than Hotmail, as it is in the online space and is targeted at mass use.

InstaColl is targeting both the office productivity market, which it estimates to be $20bn this year, and the market for document management and collaboration software.

The decision to offer the service free for personal use was prompted by the need to popularise the technology, Raghavendra said.

The application currently supports Microsoft Office on the desktop for users who want to work offline, but will also support, an open-source office suite, in a few months. InstaColl also plans to launch by that time its own desktop client to offer its customers the ability to work offline.

Related articles

All Office software reviews