In the Groove -- and out of the rut –

One day out of stealth mode, Groove Networks could change the way people collaborate. Led by Ray Ozzie, the original developer of Lotus Notes, this product promises to be just as revolutionary as Ozzie's first brainchild.

Even its beta, released today, is live, powerful, and complete. It offers an interactive way for people to get work done instantly and efficiently. While its technology base is new, it's so simple to use that the untrained, barely skilled computer worker can wear it like a comfortable old shoe.

For corporate IT managers, Groove could be a lifesaver -- it lets IT turn over the keys to business people who are trying to get work done. Using a distributed or peer-to- peer architecture, the software doesn't depend on having a team of specialists to set up servers to manage communications. Yet, through its sophisticated use of XML technology, it has all the safety and security features that IT managers need to breathe easy. Moreover, its use of component technology lets members of the Groove environment assemble the tools within their applications simply, as plug-ins.

People can immediately connect with their colleagues and collaborate on different types of work, such as planning events, sharing drafts and proposals, coordinating programs, or sharing objects like photos, drawings, or music. Groups in the Groove can exchange all types of media files, draw on shared whiteboards, annotate documents, and chat at the same time.

Designed to collapse the distance between people, the application can be used by a local group or one whose members are geographically dispersed and connected only by wire. Team members can set up a shared space within the Groove environment and add functions as needed. Each participant downloads the Groove shared space and can interact with the data online or offline. Groove saves all of the member's content, additions, annotations, and new functions, then sends them to other members when a member computer goes online.

Trite as it sounds, Groove is groovy. It's easy to use but extensible. Users can change everything from its skins to its applications while staying in touch.

It supports work activity, no matter how the members choose to work. It's realtime, it stores and forwards, and it has the ability to keep communications up even when some of its members are down. Sound confusing? It's not.

The end user first installs a Groove transceiver -- a suite of applications that lets the user share a notepad, sketchpad, browser, and files. It also enables shared annotations on text or graphics. The applications, which are Groove-aware files, can even come from other standard Windows applications. The Groove session creates a file that is encrypted, transmitted and stored on the local disks of everyone in the group. This redundancy provides automatic backup and recovery, should a group member lose or destroy some of the files.

Groove uses a realtime peer-to-peer platform and high security levels, and can support many-to-many communication among small groups. There's no need to set up servers or sophisticated communications tools. Website managers or hosting services need not get involved.

Seeing it work is almost like magic. Users can download the software from the Website and install it in a few minutes. Groove uses a "presence server" that keeps a list of groups online. Any user can instantly establish a communication session by inviting another user to join the group. Invitations can be sent via an instant Groove message or standard email. From that point on, everything in the Groove session -- communications, file sharing, sketch pads, voice chat -- is saved to the session file.

If a group member tries to communicate with an offline user, the communications are routed to a relay server that holds the information, then passes it on when the offline user connects.

The technical intricacies of this software are fascinating, but your users will probably never know it. They'll just install it and go to work.

You can download the preview edition today. Groove Networks warns that it's an early edition and still in development. Don't let that scare you away -- even in its infancy, this robust beta has more complete features than many released applications.

So, how would your company's customers use Groove? That's the big question. I think its applications will be limited only by imagination. Check it out for yourself -- if your people collaborate, get them in the Groove.

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