IBM readies answer to Google Docs and Office 365

The IBM Docs cloud-based document service has arrived in beta, with the full launch to come after the summer, when it will go up against entrenched rivals from Google and Microsoft

IBM has officially launched a beta version of its cloud-based IBM Docs document-editing tool, with a final version expected to go up against Google and Microsoft's services later this year.

Like Google Docs and Office 365, IBM's service lets people to edit and share text, presentation and spreadsheet documents. Unlike them, it has a feature to assign specific sections of a document to key staff for editing, the company said in its announcement on Tuesday.

"We have approached IBM Docs with the idea that a document is a container of different sections, and so we have made it a flexible item that can integrate more collaborative elements," IBM product manager Jeanette Barlow said.

In addition, businesses can set security levels for certain sections of a document, so only employees with that clearance can see sensitive information. This feature is undergoing testing with one of IBM's government customers, according to Barlow.

Some customers will start deploying the service in private clouds in the first half of this year, IBM said, and the beta version is now live on IBM Greenhouse site for others to test out. The final product is expected to arrive some time in the second half of 2012.

IBM Docs, which has been under development for the last two years, is part of IBM's LotusLive cloud platform. The platform is undergoing a rebranding, and will be known as IBM Smart Cloud for Social Business.

IBM's social push also includes analytics software called Connections, social-networking tools for content management systems as well as mobile and web-based collaboration software.

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