IBM Docs, a potential rival to Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, will likely launch in December 2012, Talkin' Cloud has heard. Part of IBM SmartCloud, the Docs initiative may empower channel partners and customers with another cloud-based business productivity suite.

But is there room for IBM to carve a niche for itself in the crowded market for online spreadsheets, documents and presentation services? I'm not sure sure. But I do know this: IBM's solid reputation among CIOs and corporate IT customers will surely inspire businesses to test the new cloud software suite.

IBM Docs has undergone beta testing since LotusSphere 2012, an annual conference held back in January. The Docs platform is part of IBM's larger SmarCloud initiative, which includes integrations with Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, Skype and other cloud applications.

IBM has not announced official pricing or availability for Docs, but multiple sources involved in the project indicate that December 2012 appears to be a safe guess for a launch target.

Still, some folks think IBM may hold back and officially announce the suite at IBM Connect 2013 -- essentially a Lotusphere successor event set for Jan. 27-31 in Orlando. The event ranks among the top 100 channel partner conferences that The VAR Guy, our sister site, is tracking for 2013.