Bite the Hand that Feeds You?

There’s a new online Office player in town: Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of Hotmail, the web-mail service that perfected viral marketing and got acquired by Microsoft for $400 million, unveiled his free web-office suite yesterday. It does not look at Google, Zoho or ThinkFree, it aims at Microsoft directly:

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

So be it – I am a certified web-app fanboy. I’m still waiting for my trial account (and wonder if I will ever get it after this post) , so I can’t comment on the applications themselves, but I think Mr. Bhatia’s choice of a name is rather tasteless: Live Documents. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.. except the close resemblance to Microsoft’s Windows Live brand. I only have “conspiracy theories” here:

  • Live Documents is a shameless rip-off of the MS brand, Mr. Bhatia is literally biting the hand that fed him and indirectly funded this company.
  • He is riding on Microsoft’s coat-tails: his application is (supposedly) very similar to MS Office 2007, he offers a plug-in to the MS products, uses the MS Office logo quite liberally throughout his site, people know his background with MS – all this creates the impression that his products is somehow jointly developed with Microsoft. (?) While this may help gaining traction initially, I think confusing customers is a very-very bad policy. (But what do I know, I haven’s sold a business for $400Msmile_embaressed)
  • Finally, the most far-fetched speculation: this is indeed Microsoft’s secret weapon, named appropriately so it fits easily after it’s absorbed in a $billion+ deal.

I can’t wait to hear from Microsoft… Don? Cliff? Chris? Anyone?

Update (11/23): Dan Farber on ZDNEt came to the same conclusions – literally.

Update #2: As much as I don’t like the Live copycat, I have to admit calling it “service plus software” is a smart play on Microsoft’s “software plus service“, indicating the shift in priorities. smile_wink

Related stories: Times Online, Techspot, Macworld UK, PC Advisor, Digital Inspiration, Between the Lines, /Message, Rough Type , deal architect, Zoho Blogs,, Read/WriteWeb, TechCrunch, Betaflow.


  1. Ahhh, interesting. I just got a message from these folks,
    pointing out the site to me. I was wondering about the liberal use
    of the MS Office logo on their site, but signed up just to see if I could get a peek…

  2. Zoli – given the fact that he can get away with it only because MS fought
    hard to allow this sort of thing (after ripping off Apple themes and functions)
    isn’t it kind of a quid pro quo situation?

  3. Zoli – you got the perfect title here.

  4. Zoli, this righteous indignation would perhaps hold more water if you weren’t a Zoho advisor and cheerleader (and I imagine, a shareholder). Rather than a snarky post questioning Bhatia’s ethics, why not acknowledge a new, perhaps formidable competitor in the market for on-demand apps and think about how that changes the market? We all have prejudices and self interest but it’s not smart business to be blatantly partisan in your views.

  5. Ari, it could very well be a formidable competitor, and like I said above I am looking forward to actually check out the applications. I also stated numerous times that I think “competition” in within the web-app players is good, we’re at the stage of increasing acceptance of web apps and all these players together are increasing the market size, which is more important than slicing it.

    But none of the above changes the fact that I find the play on the Microsoft brand tasteless – unless it’s in preparation of another deal with MS. Btw, read Dan Farber on ZDNEt, he comes to the same conclusion – literally.

  6. Zoli,
    Sumanth from the Live Documents team here…
    Let me start off with a question – if Microsoft says that they are offering an online service called “Office Live”, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that they intend to give you hosted versions of their Office suite – Word, Excel, PowerPoint included? Well, as both of us know, Office Live has almost nothing to do with Microsoft Office and is a completely different set of applications! So, we would posit that Microsoft’s branding is confusing and deliberately misleading…and the fact that they do not have a true online version of their desktop software gives others an opening to establish a solution in that space. In fact, our original tag line was “Live Documents – what Microsoft Office Live should have looked like”!. Also, we severely doubt whether Microsoft has a monopoly on the word “Live” – there are already several other websites that use the word in their offering – for instance uses both Live and Office but has nothing to do with Microsoft! And yes, we do make it quite clear in all the places that we can that this is not an offering from Microsoft – apart from the IP disclaimer, we say this out aloud on our company page as well as on every document created in our service…if it helps, we will make this even more prominent going forward! I should also mention that like your client, Adventnet, our company has been around for several years (founded in 2000) and this solution is just one of our offerings – we have no ambitions/aspirations of being acquired by Microsoft or anyone else!
    Regarding the title of your post, I am not sure I understand why you feel that Sabeer should not compete with Microsoft simply because he had previously sold a company to them – if that was the norm, then no entrepreneur who has ever sold a company should attempt a second innings! The Hotmail sale was a pure commercial transaction – it wasn’t intended to and didn’t chain Sabeer to MS for life!
    Finally, good to learn that you are an advisor of Zoho – I hadn’t realized that from your post but nevertheless, bear no malice towards you for bashing our solution – that is your perogative, with or without your Zoho leanings! I must mention that Zoho is a company that we are very fond of as they are doing many things that we admire and quite frankly, we are also proud of Zoho in that it has Indian roots – we have always held that we need more Indian companies trying to attempt things like Zoho. Like you, we also feel that we are not competing with Zoho and rather working towards the same goal of popularizing a new way to interact with your documents…time will be the judge as to how successful we will be but we are certainly optimistic as every entrepreneur needs to be!
    Cheers and best of luck to Zoho…

%d bloggers like this: