Groove Reloaded: The Virtual Office

Groove Version 3's file-sharing feature could be the tail that will wag the dog.

The ideas behind Groove Networks are compelling. For Ray Ozzie, Groove was a reboot from the original precepts of Lotus Notes, which Ozzie architected before the Internet changed everything.

Groove initially promised a "just works" philosophy with zero IT requirements; a secure, user-deployable architecture that distributed resources; and communications from centralized servers to the edge of the network. But like Notes, the client was sloooooow, the development methodology cumbersome and the business case elusive for all but the collaboration-committed.

Ozzie, however, is a persistent visionary. His focus has shifted from Grooves original charter—serving the changing nature of business—to serving the changing nature of work itself. The sweet spot of the new Groove is the virtual office.

"Last year was the year of Wi-Fi, the transition to laptops," Ozzie told me in a conversation about the Groove v3.0 public beta. Todays mobile workers require a secure, rapidly deployable layer of what he calls rich client-side middleware. Then they require tools that abstract the details of operating systems and tool sets that reside across the firewall.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read an interview with Ray Ozzie on Grooves role in the changing nature of work and information routing.

"My IT organization cannot dictate what directory or standards another organization deploys," Ozzie said. "All [Groove users] need to know is the person they need to work with. Thats it." Whether its Windows 98 or XP or eventually "Longhorn." "Software on PCs is not used unless its really user-friendly, and software thats deployed by enterprises isnt used unless its able to be managed," he said.

Groove Management Server provides one-click deployment, directory federation, PKI integration, and auditing and monitoring tools. Performance has been improved by a factor of 2, 4 or in some cases 10. But a new feature, GFS (Groove File Sharing), is perhaps the tail that will wag the dog.

"In [Version 2] we put certain mail integration features in because we noticed that people like to start sharing based on the things that theyre talking about in e-mail," Ozzie said. Now, with the ability to synchronize files directly from the Windows file system across Grooves secure XML network, users can share documents in the context theyre already comfortable working in: Windows Explorer.

Couple group file sharing with v3.0s enhanced notification and alert architecture, and you make pervasive what Ozzie calls "swarming." "Its shifted so much activity of what people do into Groove," Ozzie said, "it feels more like a place [where] other people live, and you get things done more quickly."

Craig Samuel, HP Services chief knowledge officer, said he thinks GFS alone can save HP serious money by letting users share lower-demand data at the periphery of the enterprise. "GFS is at the least a bridging mechanism and potentially an alternative to Microsofts Longhorn file sharing," Samuel told me.

Groove has found its killer app.

Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor is editor of eWEEK.coms Messaging and Collaboration Center. He can be reached at