Get Into the Groove

 
 
By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2006-11-27 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Get Into the Groove

Office 2007 represents Microsofts first chance to put its mark on Groove, acquired through its acquisition of the company of the same name in March 2005. The changes in Groove are dramatic, but this version plays better in the Office world, particularly when it comes to SharePoint Server, Windows SharePoint Services and InfoPath.

Still, Groove 2007 is an odd fit in the Office suite, at least thematically. While collaboration using the applications is tied together through SharePoint Server or Windows SharePoint Services, Groove creates inward-focused collaboration islands through a peer-to-peer network. In corporate environments, where theres a serious need for document control, Groove 2007 can constitute a bit of risk, albeit one that can be managed by bringing the Groove communication infrastructure inside the firewall.

A core feature of Groove 2007 is the Groove peer-to-peer network, which is managed either through a set of public servers run by Microsoft or a set of servers companies can purchase from Microsoft and run internally. Users create their own applications using templates and share the applications with other users either on the local network or over the Internet. Applications are shared with users who have been identified through the Groove public directory, a publishing service on a local network. A user also can share an application through e-mail or across multiple computers (such as from an office PC to a home PC).

Microsoft has reduced the number of templates available in Groove, focusing instead on templates that deliver a core set of capabilities.

These core templates now include discussion, file sharing, forms, calendar, notepad and meeting applications. Some of the applications will seem redundant—for example, the shared calendar wont make sense for most Office users, since sharing calendars through Outlook and Exchange Server is relatively easy.

eWEEK Labs evaluates tools aimed at making the Office 2007 upgrade path easier. Click here to read more.
However, one of the great things about Groove is that it can make what would ordinarily be internally facing systems accessible to users outside the organization for project-based work. Where Exchange allows users to share calendars only within an organization, Groove allows a calendar to be shared with, for example, an external project consultant. In addition, Groove includes a forms application for collecting and sharing simple database information, such as a list of attendees for an event or details for a product catalog.

Groove 2007 adds support for InfoPath forms, allowing users to reuse forms theyve created for internal processes. We didnt find InfoPath support to be truly plug and play, however—companies will likely need to do some forms editing to ensure compatibility with Groove 2007.

Another interesting feature is support for Office SharePoint Server document libraries. Groove users can now use the Groove client to bring SharePoint documents offline for editing. This also gives companies a way to bring partners into the document creation and editing process without having to expose a SharePoint site externally or grant partners access to the network. An employee can access the SharePoint content from within the firewall and then share it, as a kind of proxy, over the Groove network with the external user. This could also be a way to allow users to make SharePoint content available on their home PCs.

IT administrators who want to ensure that this kind of sharing doesnt happen—but see the value of Groove as a collaboration tool—can tightly manage Groove networks. Microsoft also offers Groove Enterprise Management Server 2007 and Enterprise Relay Server 2007, for companies that want to run and manage internal Groove networks. Groove 2007 can be configured during installation to connect only through an Enterprise Relay Server.

Groove 2007 will be bundled only in the Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007 and Microsoft Office Ultimate 2007 editions of the Office suite, which means that Microsoft is missing out on an opportunity to help small and midsize businesses quickly build collaborative work spaces without help from IT organizations. Groove also is available as a separate product for $229 per user.

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

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