By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2004-07-19 Print this article Print

With Groove Virtual Office 3.0, Groove Networks Inc. has retooled much of the look and feel of its peer-to-peer team collaboration application, making it easier to use and customize.

Released earlier this month and priced at $99 per user for the Professional Edition, Groove Virtual Office 3.0 has a $229-per-user Project Edition and a File Sharing Edition priced at $69 per user. In eWEEK Labs tests of the Professional Edition, we found it does a good job alleviating some of the ease-of-use problems in earlier versions.

Groove is still a Windows-only solution, so it doesnt offer the flexibility of Web-based collaboration applications. However, the clients ability to let users work offline is something Web-based applications dont offer.

Groove Virtual Office 3.0 changes the user interface significantly by introducing the Launchbar, an instant-messaging-client-like tool. The Launchbar organizes work spaces and contacts in a way that we found particularly helpful. We used the Launchbar to group work spaces and contacts, as well as to modify many of the basic application settings, such as a well-designed alerting feature.

Creating work spaces has also been simplified in this release; the work space creation wizard has been replaced with a simple tool for selecting work space type, such as file sharing or standard. Groove comes with about a dozen work space templates that include numerous tools specific to each template, such as a new team member form in the Office Management template. Within each work space, we could easily add other components to customize a work space.

We liked how some elements have been tied together in the work space itself, including the integration of chat in member lists. In general, we found it easy to invite members into a work space. For non-Groove members, invitations include download instructions for the client. This invitation process works as well as invitations work in other collaborative tools, such as CoCreate Softwares OneSpace.net.

Groove is fairly extensible in that companies can build custom forms in an application and repurpose the forms across many other work spaces. In tests, we found the form tool easy to use; any group member with desktop database application experience can build new forms quickly.

The forms-building capabilities are more robust than those available in Web-based tools such as Intranets.com Inc.s namesake service. These forms can be integrated with other applications, such as a back-end database, via VBScript or JavaScript, but that requires running Groove Development Kit and Groove Enterprise Integration Server.

Although Groove has improved the application, we still found some areas where performance lags, particularly when creating work spaces and designing templates. While Groove officials said the system requirements are light—an Intel Corp. 400MHz Pentium II box with 256MB of RAM—we found systems that have a processor running close to or better than 1GHz are needed to provide users with a satisfactory experience.

Click here to read an interview with Groove founder Ray Ozzie. As with previous releases, Groove manages P2P connections via its network servers. Companies that want to manage connections internally can purchase Groove Enterprise Relay Server for managing data between client systems. This release makes it easy to manage multiple instances of a users data across multiple machines, such as an office or a home PC.

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms Messaging & Collaboration Center at http://messaging.eweek.com for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

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