After being in development for months, Box.net has officially released the beta of their new collaboration functionality. With this new feature, any Box.net user can invite collaborators to any folder in their account. The collaboration feature is also fully compatible with all the OpenBox services, which extends online collaboration beyond just word processor documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, like Google Docs currently offers.

To use the Box.net collaboration feature, you just right-click on any folder in your Box.net account. There, you will see an new menu option to "invite collaborators." You can then enter in the email addresses of the person or persons you wish to collaborate with. As you type, the email addresses of anyone who is already listed in your Box.net Contacts List will appear so you can select them easily, if desired.

Collaborators can be given either "Viewer" or "Editor" rights the folder, a setting you select before sending the invite. After the invitation is sent, those users will then see the same folder appear in their accounts. Every time a new file is added to the folder, all subscribed users are alerted either via email or in the "Updates" section of their Box.net homepage.

Along with collaboration, Box.net is also releasing Version History for any file on Box for users with a premium account. With Version History, any file that you or the collaborators edit will now have a complete record of versions, which is great for un-doing changes, recovering deleted content, and rolling back to previous versions.

The killer feature of the collaboration offering is that it's fully compatibility with Box.net's OpenBox services. With this functionality, collaborators can choose to edit documents online, like they can with Google Docs, but users can choose to use either Zoho or thinkfree to do so. Where Box.net trumps Google Docs is in the fact that Box.net collaborators can also edit photos online with Picnik or Snipshot. Once the edits are finished, Box.net makes it easy to then publish files online to any of the OpenBox services. The full list of these partnered web services includes: Autodesk Freewheel, blog posting (to Wordpress, LiveJournal, or Blogger), Echosign, eFax, facebook, Myxer, picnik, Scribd, Snipshot, thinkfree, twitter, Zazzle, and Zoho.

Although the collaboration feature makes Box.net a worthy adversary in the realm of online document sharing and editing, the Google Docs solution is still a more robust offering overall as it also includes business-oriented features like email, calendaring, IM, web page creation, and administration features.

The Box.net collaboration beta is available now to all members and everyone can participate in as many folders as they are invited to. However, free account holders can only create up to three collaboration folders.