Reporter's notebook: Visions of a Groove thing

ITworld.com –

One of this week's hot happenings was Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie's return to the scene, with software for ad-hoc group collaboration in hand. He now sits at the helm of Groove Networks (Beverly, Mass.), which has launched the Groove peer computing platform.

Groove's new collaborative platform is part Internet messenger, part group calendar, and part peer-to-peer file sharer. But in the hands of the visionary Ozzie, such simple elements may combine to become much more. He and other industry viewers anticipate that corporations will form project groups that employ different software tools on an as- needed basis, with Groove as the fulcrum.

Another visionary was notable at the Groove rollout. On hand to help start up the Groove bandwagon was none other than Dan Bricklin, father of the electronic spreadsheet known as VisiCalc and head of Trellix Corp. (Concord, Mass.). Trellix has evolved from a maker of a collaborative document creation environment into a full-fledged maker of Web-building tools. We hoped to talk to Bricklin to get one visionary's view on another's latest creation.

But first some background on Trellix. Fairly early on, Bricklin decided not to duke it out in the mainstream Webpage-tools business, where there are either low-margin consumer tools or strict corporate buying edicts. With Trellix, Bricklin has instead chosen to make his way by forging deals with destinations, which might be better described as big-membership Websites. On these sites, which include Lycos's Tripod and ZDNet, a server-based version of Trellix is employed to help novices design complex Webpages that are compiled on the fly.

This week, Trellix agreed to integrate the Groove platform with Web Express, its private-label Website-building service. This allows Groove an entree to a potential mass market.

Groove Networks will have to do more along these lines for its product to gain ubiquity; this is crucial to a potential mass-category product, akin in some ways to AOL Instant Messenger and Napster. Ultimately, Groove will have to appear as a default icon on newly shipped PCs, or as a favored pop-up window on major Internet portals.

To find out where Groove may be headed, ITworld.com caught up with Dan Bricklin not long after the Groove rollout. Much has been made of Groove Networks's use of peer-to- peer computing architecture, but Bricklin said that is not entirely the point.

"They don't go after P2P for the sake of P2P," he said. "Ray [Ozzie] watched his kids use the Web, and saw they were able to communicate in multiple chat rooms simultaneously, or use a customized version of Quake.

"He thought: 'Why should this be just for the games? Why can't business people have this in an ad-hoc way?' And he decided the way to go was decentralized," said Bricklin, who added that Groove Networks put in proper security mechanisms, clearly important to the success of this undertaking, when fashioning its solution.

"P2P isn't the reason for Groove," Bricklin said, "But it makes it easy to build applications. People want tools, and they want them immediately. They don't want to wait."

Of course, IT always hears users say they don't want to wait for solutions -- not that these same users don't mind creating endless to-do lists for the IT department. A workable ad-hoc solution would have merit for users and IT. In fact, Ozzie may have a strategy in mind to sneak the product into the organization (a la VisiCalc and Instant Messenger), rather than fight for corporate acceptance (which Notes seems to still have to do every day).

The allure of the new platform, according to industry observer Cheryl Currid, is that the software does not require a team of specialists to set up servers to manage communications. (See "In the Groove -- and out of the rut" (ITworld.com, Oct. 24, 2000).)

Of course, the new product has a long way to go to prove itself. Will IT come to see it as an ad-hoc solution, an ad-hoc headache, or something in between? What do you think?

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