Building a Better Groove

CEO Ray Ozzie outlines collaboration software maker's server plans, links to .Net and notes.

Ray Ozzie is chairman and CEO of Groove Networks Inc., a maker of peer-based collaboration software. The company launched the first version of Groove in October 2000 and is now readying Version 2.5 for shipment. Faced with a tight economy, the company is intent on proving that its software can deliver tangible value and that it can survive in a difficult environment for startups. Groove received a big boost last October when Microsoft Corp. invested $51 million in the company. Prior to founding Groove in 1997, Ozzie was president of Iris Associates, where he led development of Lotus Notes, the pioneering groupware package. Ozzie spoke with eWeek Executive Editor Stan Gibson and Department Editor John McCright at Grooves headquarters in Beverly, Mass.

eWeek: Groove announced three servers last year. Does this mean that more logic will be put on the server and less on the client, and does it mean that you were wrong about the server not being necessary?

Ozzie: Youll have to believe me about one thing: This isnt revisionist history. The Relay Server has always been a piece of the architecture because otherwise youd have no way to work offline. Relay Server, Enterprise Integration Server and Enterprise Management Server—those originated about the same time. They were the big push in Version 2 of Groove. But this is not centralization of the application or the data. The fourth server, which we havent talked a lot about, is an audit server. Its key to pharmaceutical and financial services users because it maintains a verifiable audit history of what people on those clients are doing, for regulatory reasons. The audit server will be in 2003: tested in the first half of the year, gold later in the year.

eWeek: What about a Web services server?

Ozzie: Thats another one. Were calling it Web Services Access Point. Consistent with the Groove philosophy, theres no applications logic on it. The Groove client is where the applications live. Each application is called a tool set and exposes Web services on the client. The Web Services Access Point is told by the clients where they are. That is going into beta in the fourth quarter [of this year].

eWeek: What is your view of Microsoft .Net?

Ozzie: .Net is based on XML as a universal data format and leverages XML so that programs talk to programs. Visual Studio .Net works with their common language run-time. Its incredibly powerful—you dont have to trust me on this one. Theyve raised the productivity state of the art dramatically. Java raised it before, and .Net continues that progression. Groove developers use Visual Studio and Visual Studio .Net to build Groove apps. Thats a piece of .Net Im totally psyched about.

eWeek: Microsofts software has had security holes exploited. How do you respond?

Ozzie: Customers have to understand that theres nothing that Groove can do to protect the underlying operating environment. A keystroke sniffer can get every password, and theres nothing we can do about it. You need to understand the vulnerabilities of laptops also. People dont ask us so many questions about Microsoft and security, but they do ask about how Groove impacts their infrastructure and how Groove can provide secure solutions to their organization. When IT people see Groove going through the firewall, they have a lot of questions. We talk about bandwidth and security and show them how they can manage security issues.

eWeek: Why did you choose to develop a Notes- compatible version of Groove?

Ozzie: Customer demand. Notes is providing people a lot of value. Users told us they do collaboration in e-mail, but once it gets complicated, they want to go into Groove. Groove works with any Notes database, however, not just e-mail.

eWeek: Some critics say collaboration software ought to use a browser interface.

Ozzie: The browser interface is the best answer for universal access to transaction systems and applications. But its not the way to work with other people. People work offline, they use their laptops, they go home, they work on planes and in hotel rooms, where there is not high bandwidth. You need to pick the right architecture for the problem youre trying to solve.

eWeek: Version 2.5 of Groove is on the horizon. What can we look for?

Ozzie: The major things are on the infrastructure side, including continued bandwidth enhancements. It has a number of features that do more advanced topology management. Groove conserves bandwidth by figuring out an optimal network topology. It can send copies only where they need to go. Also, theres a thing called "asymmetric files." When you drop something into a shared space, people get it only when they need it. On the user interface side, there is Microsoft integration with SharePoint and Outlook. Its due to ship in the fourth quarter [of this year].

eWeek: What about Groove on non-PC clients, such as [the Research In Motion Ltd.] BlackBerry?

Ozzie: No product plans, but we have demonstrated how easy it is to build small apps that take advantage of the shared space.

eWeek: When times are tight like they are now, people are looking for a quick return on investment. How do you quantify the benefits of Groove?

Ozzie: A lot of our early customers in the current [economic] environment buy only if they can see a benefit in the next 30, 60 or 90 days. Take professional services firms. They need to be very responsive to proposals. [Hewlett-Packard Co.s] HP Services uses Groove to put proposals together. Another services firm has to meet certain government requests for proposal with a turnaround of 4 hours.