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What does Groove purchase mean to collaboration?

John Vaughan asked Notes notables to share perspectives on Microsoft's recent purchase of Groove Networks, and its hiring of Notes' creator Ray Ozzie.

Microsoft recently announced the planned acquisition of Groove Networks. While not surprising this is still an interesting development for Lotus Notes professionals because the man at the helm of Groove is none other than Ray Ozzie, the visionary behind Notes.

I asked several people in the Notes community to share their perspectives on what they believe this acquisition means. Their observations are below. I'll add my own comments at the end of the article.

Andrew Kelly -

Although the announcement that Microsoft is buying Groove makes a lot of sense for both companies, it still came as a surprise after Ray Ozzie's prominent visibility at Lotusphere 2005.

In spite of all the hype surrounding this acquisition, I don't think anything dramatic will be happening anytime soon. I've been a Groove user since the first version and I find it to be a compelling application. Nevertheless, there are a number of hurdles that must be overcome for it to be a successful Microsoft product.

It will be difficult to position Groove within the Office suite in a way that will be cohesive and useful to the average user. Significant interoperability work has already been done, but I don't see it being leveraged outside of the power-user crowd. Also, there is the potential for a lot of confusion if the roadmap isn't made clear in the near term. For example, will Groove be integrated into SharePoint Services or will it be the opposite, and how will Live Communications Server fit into the puzzle? I also wonder how Microsoft will deal with the compliance ramifications of a peer-to-peer-enabled Office.

I'm amazed at the amount of FUD that I've already seen about this buy-out as it relates to IBM Lotus. Whichever way Office is restructured to accommodate Groove, the hybrid just doesn't constitute any kind of a "Notes Killer" event. At best, Lotus Team Workplace (QuickPlace) may have its first real competitor, but the collaboration capability of Notes and Domino will be far beyond the reach of this bundle for some time to come.

Tom Duff -
In the short run, I don't think this changes much of anything in the overall collaboration space. Microsoft has been a major part of Groove for the past few years, and I'm sure they have had many, many conversations with Ray Ozzie in that time. From the software perspective, this just formalizes what many people thought was the logical outcome of Microsoft's investment in Groove. We just won't be able to refer to Groove as "third-party software" anymore.

Over the longer haul, Ozzie's influence at Microsoft could be a significant factor. He "gets" collaboration, and Microsoft hasn't shown that they can get it right yet. No doubt this will help the company's market position. Will Ozzie be able to create the next "Notes" at Microsoft? Time will tell. "Earthshaking" announcements, like the Microsoft/Sun partnership, have a strange way of generating lots of press up front and delivering little tangible benefits down the road.

Richard Schwartz -
Ray Ozzie is a visionary technologist, a brilliant developer and is adept at leading small, autonomous development teams that accomplish great things. Great small and autonomous development at Microsoft, however, is the rub.

Small and autonomous won't be the case at Microsoft any more than it was the case at IBM. When Ray left IBM, one of the stories that made the rounds was that he knew it was time to go when he realized that his executive duties were taking him away from the labs so much that he didn't know the names of half the people who worked on his product anymore. He remembered what it was like when he not only knew all the employees by name, but also their spouses' names, along with their kids' names and their dogs' names, and he wanted to get into a situation where that could be true again.

That was quite a few years ago, of course, and there's no reason to believe that Ray necessarily has the same preferences now as he did back then, but it's quite possible that Ray's role as CTO of Microsoft could just be another stopping point for him –- a transitional stage until he goes back to what he really loves doing: starting small, visionary software companies.

While he's at Microsoft, whether for the short or long haul, I know Ray's impact will be felt in many ways. One of the things that I think is a natural fit for Ray will be working with the WinFS team. As I see it, WinFS is trying to integrate the equivalent of the NSF file and all the services that go along with it into the Windows OS so that all Windows applications can reap the types of benefits that Notes developers have been getting from NSF for years. WinFS has apparently been a troublesome project at Microsoft, and who better to get it back on track than the man who conceived of NSF? Ray will undoubtedly have a great deal of influence over Microsoft's collaboration strategy, too, and even though he's way too late to do anything to really fix the disarray in Microsoft's current strategy and products, his mere presence as a strategist is likely to change a lot of perceptions. Microsoft's spin and marketing machines will not miss any opportunities to capitalize on that.

John Roling -
I think Microsoft's acquisition of Groove is an admission on Microsoft's part that it is seriously playing catch-up to Lotus Notes in groupware functionality. If you can't beat them, buy their creator. However, this is definitely going to strengthen Microsoft's position, if for no other reason than Ray Ozzie will now be making decisions on the direction of the entire collaboration portfolio for Microsoft. That can only be a good thing for Microsoft, and it forces IBM/Lotus to up the ante.

Stan Rogers -
What does worry me, at least a little, is that with Ray Ozzie on board, Microsoft might finally "get" collaboration. So far, the company has been aiming at features in Notes and trying to align its existing products to emulate what a collaboration environment should do. Notes is not a set of features, it's a way of thinking about information. Fundamentally, it is bulletin boards and blogs and wikis with workflow, and the folks in Redmond have been missing the point so far. Ozzie knows the difference between a collaboration environment and a platform with some collaboration features added.

In the long term, Microsoft may finally produce something with some staying power. In the meantime, we have Notes and Domino 7's DB2 back-end to exploit, the Notes 8 cross-platform Rich Client with which to potentially wow our users and current installations to evangelize -- they're all real, and either right now or actual, tangible alphas and betas. Microsoft has a new name on the roster; IBM/Lotus has product shipping and a customer base.

Rob McDonagh -
The addition of Groove to Microsoft's toolbox may not be the end of the world for IBM, but it's certainly a positive move for Redmond.

I've read some of the commentary online, and it ranges from suggestions that this is a meaningless deal because Groove doesn't bring that much to the table and IBM has too big a lead in collaboration, to expectations that the groupware wars will heat up again. I don't buy either extreme. I think the IBM-Microsoft wars will heat up, but it will be SharePoint Services versus WebSphere Portal Server (WPS), not Notes versus Exchange/Office/Groove. I expect Microsoft to tie Groove into Office, but the end goal will be to complete its portal offering (which is all desktop-based to begin with).

The upshot for us geeks? Probably good news in the long run. In our industry, competition drives innovation. Nothing is worse for us than monopolies like Windows, and anything that adds to the battles between Microsoft and IBM is probably good for the industry as a whole. So while this makes Microsoft stronger, I'm not pessimistic about its effect on the Lotus/IBM community. Ultimately, we shouldn't want the portal battle to be over before it begins, so if Microsoft uses Groove (and Ray's vision) to catch up to WPS, that's all to the good.

Julian Robichaux -
Three things that I think are interesting about the Groove acquisition:

First, it further legitimizes the "rich client on the desktop" concept. Notes has been a rich client since its inception, the Workplace Rich Client concept is finally sinking in and now Microsoft's vision of collaboration appears to be the Groove rich client. I think it's an indication that users really don't mind installing a piece of software to give them a useful experience on their computers. Web browser interfaces are far from dead (they're not even dying), but rich clients are once again a viable development platform. This is a big shift from a few years ago, when the future was supposed to be entirely browser-based.

Second, I think it will be very interesting to see how the peer-to-peer model of corporate collaboration pans out. The Groove product seems to be all about decentralizing the file sharing and collaborative process. I don't know how the IT departments that have been centralizing themselves for the past 20 years are going to react. I have a feeling it will take a lot of convincing, especially when you think about the risks that are involved with sharing files across workstations like that (with potentially no ability to monitor the access or back up the files on a regular basis).

If we find out that IT departments are okay with the peer-to-peer model, we might see some enterprising Notes developers start to push Notes in that direction. Since Java and http are built in to the Notes client, you might be able to do that right now -- build some sort of "listener" interface into Notes, and share it with your team. The Workplace Rich Client could probably be pushed in that direction, too, if people want it.

Third, if there's one way that Microsoft can truly kill the Groove model, I think it'll be by making it less secure. Microsoft has had a troublesome track record with workstation security over the past several years, and if they try to "open Groove up" too much, they could also open up all sorts of new and wonderful security holes. We'll have to see how that ends up too. I think people may be a little suspicious.

John Vaughan -
So there you have it. Some people are wondering if the Groove acquisition spells trouble for Notes shops. The more I think about this, the less sense it makes. Richard Schwartz wrote about the NSF above. The NSF (Notes Storage Facility) is the key to why Notes "just works." It is so amazingly flexible. In the NSF, you can add a field, delete a field, modify a field, and Notes doesn't even blink. The NSF is really the key to why Notes development is so powerful. It is in many senses why RAD (rapid application development) is possible in Notes.

I just don't see the addition of Groove impacting viability of Notes development per se. The aspect to this acquisition that is interesting though is the fundamental difference in the approach to collaboration. Notes and Workplace are about centralization. By centralization I mean control from the top down, within one organization. Groove is focused on decentralization, or control and flexibility from the bottom up. Groove is about workers in different companies collaborating in a secure peer-to-peer environment.

Personally I think IBM ought to be thinking about adding peer-to-peer capabilities in Notes, with corporate top-down controls built in to limit this activity where appropriate. Peer-to-peer that "just works" across firewalls.

With version 6 we have the ability to edit a Word document within the Notes client. Right click a Word attachment, edit, and Word launches. Save the Word file, exit Word, and save the Notes document. IBM/Lotus has already done a significant part of the work! We just need some kind of peer-to-peer capability that we can call out to easily -- like they are doing with Web Services in Notes 7. That way we would get offline capabilities already present in Notes and the flexibility to work across domains.

Web Services is proof that decentralization is important. Working across domains and firewalls is important as well. I know within my own company the professionals who work there often want to work directly with clients in a way that the Groove vision fits perfectly. Online or offline, secure, etc. Peer-to-peer within Notes would easily answer the Groove challenge, and I have a feeling that if IBM goes after it, it will arrive at the goal much faster than Microsoft has any hope of doing.

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