Friday, September 29, 2006

Groove really is pretty groovy

Tony Bierman turned me on to Groove. We've all known about Microsoft's acquisition of Groove, but I had never installed the software and taken a closer look until Tony got me to install it.

Since then, I really haven't had a chance to use it extensively, but I have poked around some, done some reading about it and watched some webcasts on it. The main thing I have been trying to figure out is "how does it fit into the SharePoint story, if at all"?

What I have found so far is that A) some features of it overlap considerably with SharePoint and will probably once again add confusion in the marketplace about which product to use in common business situations, B) it has some features that SharePoint simply doesn't have (or doesn't do as well), and C) takes a different approach to enabling team collaboration than SharePoint does and that approach can be viewed in some ways as complimentary and in other ways in competition with SharePoint.

Let's start with A) overlapping features:

With one client-side installation package you get all of the following tools:

  • Shared workspace creation
  • File sharing
  • Instant messaging
  • Alerts
  • Discussion boards
  • Form design and completion

Now onto B) features it has that SharePoint doesn't have (or that are substantially better in Groove):

  • Project scheduling and management (Groove has something that appears to be a simpler-to-use and more scaled down Microsoft Project)
  • Workspace creators can add users to the workspace regardless of who that user is (Groove is peer-to-peer software and does not require any network directory. So, you can add users that work for another company in Russia on Unix networks if you want. All that is necessary is that everyone periodically connects to the Internet or a common private IP network.)
  • It includes automatic, real-time synchronization of the workspace on each user's client machine whenever that user is connected to the Internet and other users are connected as well
  • Because of the automatic synchronization, when you disconnect from the Internet to travel, you have the full workspace available offline while you are disconnected.
  • When you consider that you get all of the tools listed above with a single client-side install, that makes it much simpler and faster to setup than the current Office/SharePoint story. To get the same functionality with Office/SharePoint you must install SharePoint on the server and on the client you would have to install 1) Office Professional, 2) MS Project, 3) some version of Microsoft's IM client, and 4) InfoPath (assuming it is not included always in Office).

Finally, C) it takes a different approach to team collaboration than SharePoint:

  • SharePoint is a server-based and browser-based product; Goove is a peer-to-peer, fat-client product. These are fundamental differences. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages over each other. In general, I think companies like browser-based solutions more than fat-client solutions because fat-client solutions are more difficult to deploy in mass. I think USERS may prefer peer-to-peer applications over server-based applications because they don't have to go through an IT network admin to give their external business partners access to the company resources. Security may be somewhat compromised, but the way most users look at is that they need to get their business conducted and many times IT security policies simply get in the way. Goove allows them to bypass IT altogether.

From this analysis, my current conclusion is that you get the best of both worlds by using BOTH Groove and SharePoint. I think together they make almost the ultimate team collaboration environment. This is especially true because Groove has a feature that allows you to publish (or synchronize) Groove document stores with SharePoint document libraries. So, a team can easily use both products in tandem and generally, SharePoint becomes the place where the "final and official" versions of a project's documentation is stored. Goove serves as the work-in-process location that only team members can access.

There is a flash movie on Microsoft's site that gives a demo of Groove. It is definitely worth taking 10 minutes to watch:

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