January 03, 2001, 11:24 AM — NEW YORK -- Techno-whiz Ray Ozzie is hoping application developers will get into his Groove and help his new peer-to-peer collaboration software become a corporate hit.
Ozzie last week lifted the veil from Groove Networks, a start-up he has been building for three years in a converted shoe factory in Beverly, Mass. The heart of the effort is the Groove Transceiver, a Napster-like peer-to-peer client that runs on a user's PC and allows the sharing of applications and files with other Groove users. The sharing occurs without a centralized server.
Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes, says the idea came to him after watching his son play a game online with friends.
The software's most advanced feature is real-time synchronization of data shared by online users. Groove instantaneously updates the data of a user who reconnects with his peers after working offline.
"This is the hard part of the platform," Ozzie says. Data integrity is a tough issue in peer-to-peer computing as users create and edit multiple copies of documents spread across numerous PCs.
Groove is targeting corporations and consumers. The company is developing an enterprise Groove Transceiver that IT could centrally manage. Those controls are not part of the first beta-test version released last week -- available for free download at www.groove.net -- but will be included when the product ships early next year.
While the potential of peer-to-peer computing is generating much industry hype, experts suggest IT executives carefully examine the full implications of products such as Groove.
"This is going to come into the enterprise whether IT wants it or not," says Matt Cain, an analyst with Meta Group, an IT research firm in Stamford, Conn. "Corporations have to be proactive to have policies and procedures in place around peer-to-peer."
Companies are looking for richer ways to collaborate with business partners, and Groove provides "in-context" collaboration, Cain adds. "The applications are right there, and you can immediately work without having to get out of one application and move into another."
The Groove Transceiver, a sizable client that requires 32M bytes of RAM, sends e-mail or instant messaging "invitations" to other users to join a "shared space" on their hard drive. Users communicate and collaborate using voice, text messages, threaded discussions, drawing and word processing tools or file sharing. All stored data and communication are encrypted.
"Fundamentally, this is about connecting people, tools and information in shared spaces in a time frame that is relevant to those users," Ozzie says. "But this is a platform product and the real value to businesses will be when they apply it to their specific problems."
The concept of corporate users sharing portions of their hard drives with the outside world may scare IT executives.