The cloud makes collaboration easier than ever. But it also increases the chances for serious messiness to occur if too many users interact with the same data at the same time. With this issue in mind, Perforce, the developer of version control software, has released a new document collaboration platform that expands the company's purview into a niche--and which might also bring it face-to-face with some new types of competition.

Perforce's product, called Commons, is touted as "an easy-to-use but powerful document collaboration tool that ensures business professionals can more productively work together on files." That's important, the company says, since according to its research document versioning problems cause significant productivity loss for most workers, even in organizations that have document management systems and file-sharing services in place.

Commons addresses these challenges by providing a collaboration platform with rigorous features built in for protecting against conflicting versions of documents, misplaced versions and data loss. The "File Valet" and version history tools are key to this functionality:

Perforce Commons File Valet

Perforce Commons Version History Tool

But Commons offers more than basic version control for documents. It is also a communication platform with features for attaching notes to different versions of files, creating alerts for other users about changes and "following" particular directories or files to receive notifications whenever updates occur.

And last but not least, Commons can merge different versions of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Word and PowerPoint, which--if you're like me and are used to hacking together multiple iterations of documents by hand into a single clean version--could be very handy indeed.

Expanding in the Channel

While many of the document collaboration features in Commons are new for Perforce, they're not necessarily as novel in the channel as a whole. Other cloud-oriented platforms, such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Docs and Dropbox, provide similar version control features (although they do not necessarily prioritize collaboration within groups).

But Perforce's introduction of this new functionality is important for a couple of reasons. First, it brings a company that has traditionally focused on software version control for technical users into a different niche that will expose it to a broader audience--a move all the more important given Perforce's close ties to the open source community, which currently has no similar product on offer. Opportunities for channel partners seem ripe.

At the same time, Perforce is offering a more modular document collaboration platform than its competitors in this area. Commons works in conjunction with other infrastructure, rather than replacing it completely. That makes it more flexible than Google's or Dropbox's platforms, which provide version control only as part of larger products. And that flexibility, too, bodes well for channel partners who might collaborate with Perforce.