A hosted office productivity suite developed by Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia needs to sprout some off-line capability or it could drown in a sea of similar products, according to a Canadian technology analyst.

Instant Collaboration Software Technologies (InstaColl), of Bangalore this week launched Live Document, an online service that allows users to access, edit and share documents using a Web browser.

The service works with any browser that supports Adobe System’s Flash and runs on any operating system.

The service is available as a limited technology preview at www.live-documents.com. It will be free for individuals to use but corporate users have to pay, said Sumanth Raghavendra, chief executive officer of InstaColl.

Bhatia, who sold Hotmail to Microsoft for US$400 million in 1997, said the new application addresses a bigger market opportunity than his earlier creation.

One Canadian analyst, however, doubts if Bhatia’s latest offering will create any impact in an already crowded market.

“I don’t see it offering anything really new,” said Fen Yik, research analyst on productivity software, help desk and IT management services at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

His views were echoed by another analyst.

“When Sabeer came out with Hotmail he was an innovator. Why is he moving into a crowded space with nothing new to offer?” asked Joel Martin, vice-president of enterprise software research with IDC Canada.

Yik said the Web-based hosted office productivity space is already crowded.

Off-line is the future of hosted productivity applications,” he said.

While users might consider hosted office suit products because of their price advantage, they are often turned off by the reliance on the Internet, said Yik. “These people are worried that if the Internet goes down, they’ll be dead on the water.”

He said one of the stronger vendors in the space, Microsoft, is offering an off-line alternative to its hosted products.

Another drawback of hosted applications is their limited functionality, according to Martin.

“Features such as document formatting are often not as polished as those offered by packaged software because buyers are often looking for the lowest common denominator,” he said.

Comment: edit@itworldcanada.com

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