Better harmony in version two of collaboration software
Monday, May 6, 2002
NEW YORK -- Imagine working on a business proposal on your computer. While you're typing, somebody else's text also appears, paragraphs away from your cursor.
It's not a ghost in the machine, just your colleague on the other side of the country, pitching in with her part. You're creating and editing the document together, using Groove, a sophisticated but very accessible piece of software.
When it was first released a year ago, Groove was billed as the program that would change the way we work.
But it didn't quite live up to its promises. It was slow and the cursor sometimes jumped around unpredictably when several users were editing a document together, making the whole thing seem more like a poorly refereed shouting match than orderly collaboration.
Groove 2.0, released a few weeks ago, addresses those problems and adds some attractive features.
The brainchild of Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie, Groove is different from most other collaboration programs, such as those from IManage Inc. and Intraspect Software Inc., in that there is no need for a central computer or server to run things.
Users simply install the software on their workstations. The program shuttles data between PCs over the Internet or an office network, keeping the document updated so participants see each other's changes as they happen.
Not just for businesses
While Groove is aimed at the corporate world, just like its rivals, it can easily be adopted by students and home users who want to get away from passing e-mails back and forth when they want to get a document right.
The first version was unwieldy because every time a user made a change to, for example, a text document, Groove would send the whole updated document to all the other participants. This quickly ate into computer performance and burdened networks.
Groove 2.0 doesn't send the entire document every time, just the changes. This means that the program is usable even over a dial-up modem. Faster connections, such as cable modems or office networks, are still preferable of course.
In the Business News department of The Associated Press, we're now using the software to track stories in a small workgroup. After just a few weeks of "grooving," it's hard to imagine going back to using ledgers to do the same thing. '
Groove has proven useful, even when we only use a few of its many tools.
There's a chat function that works much like AOL Instant Messenger -- though without an audible alert. There's a sketchpad that works like a virtual whiteboard. You can even host a formal "meeting," with an agenda, a list of action points and minutes.
The new Groove also works with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, allowing users to collaborate on documents and presentations in the de facto standard office applications.
Only one at a time
Editing in Word isn't quite as elegant as Groove's built-in writing pad because only one user can write at a time. That may be a plus for large groups, however, where users might otherwise get in each other's way.
Microsoft is an investor in Beverly, Mass.-based Groove Networks Inc., so it's quite likely we will see further integration with Microsoft products in future versions of Groove.
Other changes in the new version are intended to satisfy the demands of corporate network administrators. For instance, a company computer can now maintain a directory of in-house Groove users, making it easier to connect with colleagues.
We had no problems connecting through the company firewall, but editors at another company had trouble getting out through theirs. A Groove Networks spokesman said the software is designed to work with all firewalls, but can have problems in rare cases.
Speaking of security, all the data Groove sends between computers is encrypted to prevent eavesdropping.
Groove can be downloaded free for personal use from Groove.net.
The free edition has some limitations (you can only have five meetings running at the same time, for instance) but is adequate for home users. However, it's about 30 megabytes in size, so don't try to download it over a dial-up modem.
The standard version costs $49, and a beefed-up professional edition $99. Groove only works with Windows PCs.
On the Net