Microsoft is set to begin rolling out the latest enhancements to its Hotmail Web mail service soon. Aimed to reduce clutter and make it easier to send photos and handle Office documents, Microsoft is taking a clear shot at Google's success with its online Docs service by making a Web-based version of Office available from within Hotmail's Web interface that allows use of widely used document formats such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
The latest and so called "greatest" version of Microsoft's Hotmail will let users open and modify those document types within the browser with no additional software to download. For richer document graphics, though, users will need to install a plugin for Silverlight, Microsoft's entrant into the rich Internet application space, with rivals such as Adobe Systems Flash, and newcomer HTML 5 - which has been emerging as a potential rival and eventual replacement for single-vendor technologies such as Flash and Silverlight.
Google has done a good job of integrating Gmail and Docs, but unfortunately, the service lacks the capability to faithfully convert Office documents, Mehta ( director of product management for Microsoft's Windows Live business ) said. Google hasn't fully implemented the specifications Microsoft has published for its Office suite, he said. That's a problem, Mehta contends, since the vast majority of documents that are exchanged via e-mail are Microsoft formatted. Hotmail users on the other hand, will be able to store documents using Microsoft's SkyDrive online storage and set permissions that allow for collaboration on the same document, Mehta said.
Consumers are less likely these days to purchase Office, as the free Works package ships on most PCs, and companies can allow their employees to use a copy of Office at home. But securing the consumer market is essential to keeping control over the office productivity software market; Clive Longbottom, service director and business process analyst with Quocirca said. "They have to be worried about what happens in the consumer space," Longbottom said. "If consumers really do take to Google Docs, it is a real big issue for Microsoft."
Microsoft is also leveraging SkyDrive to make it easier to share photos. Users frequently encounter problems with attachment limits either on the sending or receiving side, Mehta said. Windows Live SkyDrive (initially Windows Live Folders) is part of Microsoft's Windows Live range of online services. SkyDrive is a file storage and sharing service that allows users to upload files to the computing cloud, then access them from a web browser. It uses Windows Live ID to control access to the user's files, allowing them to keep the files private, share with contacts, or make the files public. Publicly-shared files do not require a Windows Live ID to access. The service currently offers 25 GB of free personal storage, with individual files limited to 50 MB. Optionally, an ActiveX-based tool can be installed to allow drag-and-drop uploading from Windows Explorer. Up to five files can be uploaded each time if the tool has not been installed.