IBM joins the charge to corner the market for Web office productivity suites with the launch of LotusLive Symphony for the cloud, an office suite that offers a social platform enabling simultaneous collaboration on documents in the cloud.

While the market for cloud office suites is really getting tight, IBM (news, site) believes LotusLive integration will make the difference. LotusLive is IBM’s portal, offering a number of collaboration and social networking services in cloud.

That might not be enough to beat our the competition, which is very stiff in this space, but IBM is quite clear about what it aims to do with Symphony. It says it aims to break the link between Microsoft Office desktops and business by offering something that will enable organizations to socially enable their business processes.

Symphony and Office365

Although Big Blue thinks Symphony will be enough, the results still aren't clear, particularly because Microsoft will be launching Office365, which not only provides Office in the cloud, but also SharePoint Online, Lync and Exchange.

In this respect, it will be interesting to see when Office365 is actually released -- when BPOS was rebranded last year, MS announced that it would be launched in 2011.

IBM says it will be launching Symphony in the second half of 2011, raising the prospect of a LotusLive and Office 365 rumble in the web office space later on in the year. Nice!

Web Office Suites

This is all predicated however, on a market consisting of Office365 and Lotus Live only, and we all know that that’s not the case.

Oracle (news, site) also entered the fray recently with the launch of Cloud Office, based on OpenOffice, but this time as a hosted suite. IBM’s Symphony is also based around OpenOffice and works with Visual Basic Macros so users can import office docs.

And then there’s the open source LibreOffice -- the OpenOffice fork -- which isn't in the same league as these others, but a powerful tool all the same, with an interesting future ahead.

What’s the Symphony?

And the details? They are still few and far between, but here’s what we know so far:

How closely it resembles the on-premise version remains to be seen, but the on-premise version has had 50 million downloads already, is still free and quite versatile.

Symphony enables users to import, edit and save a variety of file formats -- including files created in Microsoft Office and IBM Lotus SmartSuite.

According to the literature, you can even convert and export your files using PDF files, while the tools work with computers running on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux environments.

Moreover, you’re not locked into proprietary file formats, software licensing agreements and upgrades. And because no one needs to purchase applications to open and read the documents, the PDF standard also makes it easier to share information with other people and organizations.

However, IBM hasn’t forgotten where it comes from. It says LotusLive Symphony in the cloud is designed to complement IBM's on-premise, free of charge, office productivity suite, IBM Lotus Symphony. However, the cloud version the hosted LotusLive version of the suite starts at US$ 3.00 per user per month with storage starting at 5MB. More on this as it unfolds.