My latest cool collaboration discovery is Groove Virtual Office, and I’m totally jazzed by it. As you must have heard by now, Microsoft acquired Groove Networks about a year ago, and its founder, Ray Ozzie, became our CTO. (My Brush with Greatness - in 1980, fresh out of college, I worked on an early distributed OS called "Notmuch" at Data General, which was designed and led by Ray... it was a very cool project, but I doubt he would remember me...)
Anyway, I think Groove is a killer app, because it has transformed the way I work on a daily basis. So I thought I’d share a bit about my experiences.
At first, I just didn’t get it. Microsoft has a great web-based collaboration tool called Windows SharePoint Services. Looking at Groove and SharePoint, it was hard to tell the difference – they both provide collaboration workspaces with documents, events, tasks, contacts, and lists of things. So why should I install Groove on my computer when the thin-client version works so well?
I remember discussing this with Matt Pope, who is Group Program Manager for Groove, when he visited the MTC a while back. “Just try it,” he said. “You have to experience it.” So I tried it. And Matt was right – it completely exceeded my expectations and it does have to be experienced. But that won’t stop me from trying to explain it anyway… ;-)
Groove is like email in some significant ways – it is decentralized, it effortlessly crosses organizational boundaries, and it synchronizes in the background onto your computer, so you always have access to everything even when you’re offline. Layer onto that the idea of collaboration workspaces: instead of streams of email messages, persistent workspaces are shared in this manner. The result is a much more flexible and accessible collaboration experience. It’s also more responsive, since the data is right on your hard drive, rather than out on a web server somewhere. Content replicates its way in from your peers, and toast pops up on your desk – you can even read and update the content when you’re off line.
There’s a place for everything, however, and cool as Groove is I don’t think it will replace SharePoint for collaboration. In fact, they can be synchronized, and this is a very useful combination, but I'll save that for another post.
A good example of when to use Groove and when to use SharePoint comes from the MTC where I work. My MTC is part of a worldwide network which performs thousands of customer engagements over time. We create a SharePoint site for every engagement, and these are invaluable in providing a place to collaborate internally on planning and follow-up. They also provide a landing place for the unstructured data out of each engagement, so you can go back and review what was done when the customer returns.
A good example of when to use Groove and when to use SharePoint comes from the MTC where I work. My
Groove would totally not work for this!! There are too many workspaces, for one thing. I don’t want to clog up my hard drive with every engagement I ever did, much less every engagement all the MTC’s have done! Also, these sites are managed centrally – the MTC controls access based on employees’ participation and their role within Microsoft. If the MTC access policies change, the site permissions can be changed, usually by changing group memberships. Again, that’s not possible with Groove, where each workspace has its own membership list and is managed from within.
On the other hand, the MTC’s work with a lot of Microsoft partners, and Groove is a great way to collaborate with them. Groove account management is “in the cloud” and works across corporate firewalls, so it’s easy to email a workspace invitation to anyone regardless of who they work for. I am the liaison to a few of these partners, and Groove is a great time-saver as it gives us a place to drop shared content and always keep up to date. I don’t have to email updated documents to everyone, only to have them re-file them in their own directory structure … instead, I just keep my documents in Groove, and everyone always has them on their desktop all the time.
SharePoint could do this on an Extranet basis, but governance is always a big issue – for the moment, you’d end up setting up accounts for each individual from a partner company; these need to be managed somehow, especially as staff changes. The next version of SharePoint is slated to support ADFS, which will solve this problem neatly for companies that have a significant enough relationship to create the SAML trust necessary for it to work.
But long before that’s established, people will be collaborating with Groove.
It’s addicting. Just try it…. ;-)
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