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Father of Notes gives birth to new era in collaboration

NEW YORK--Peer-to-peer computing took a bold step forward as the man who fathered Lotus Notes, Ray Ozzie, and his company Groove Networks, Inc. introduced what may be a new era in collaboration.

The new invention from Ozzie's Beverly, Mass.-based Groove Networks, Inc. is part application and part platform. Simply called Groove, it is designed to allow almost any program to become a collaborative application.

Using Groove, one member of an online team could open a file on a client computer and, without the benefit of a central server, share that file with others in a shared online workspace. The file could then be viewed and edited simultaneously in real time by all users.

If a member of a team wished to work on a file while offline, he or she could save that file to his or her own client computer, make changes, and when that user rejoins the online workspace, the file will automatically synchronize with the original.

The Groove program has the look and feel of a Web browser, and is accompanied by a gang window to denote which members of a collaboration team are in the Groove shared workspace.


While Groove is obviously in competition with Ozzie's former company, Lotus Development Corp., Groove surpasses Notes' collaboration capabilities in some areas.

"If I need to get something done in Notes, and it's not happening, I have to get an administrator to do that work," said Michael Matthews, executive vice president and number two man behind Ozzie at Groove Networks.

"If I wanted to quickly get five guys together in a discussion about a problem that I'm having, and two of them are outside my firewall, I can't do that" using Notes, he said.

However, Matthews said it is possible for Groove and Notes to work hand in hand. For instance, a file could be retrieved by Notes from a Domino server, shared and worked on by peers over the Internet using Groove, and then stored once again on a Domino server when collaboration on that file was completed.


A big focus of Groove Networks' three years of stealth development was working on what Ozzie called enabling those on the edge of the network; working to effectively bring together individuals in varied locations who do not work behind a common firewall.

Ozzie said it took the first several months to figure out how effective peer-to-peer computing was, and then he built the company around making Groove easy to use.

"A lot of why it's taken three years it to make it easy," Ozzie said. "I've got to tell you this is, without a doubt, the most technologically challenging thing I've ever done in my career."

Ozzie said he first realized the potential of peer-to-peer networking by observing his son Neil playing the game Quake one day.

"It started to dawn on me while I'm looking at him that he wasn't actually just playing games. He had gotten together with a group of his friends out on the Net," through each other's PCs, Ozzie said. "If these kids can get together and use these tools and mold them into what they want to do, right out on the edge of the Net, why in business are we stuck using e-mail?"


Groove has made a considerable effort to extend its platform by opening it to system integrators and third-party developers.

In addition to making the Preview Edition of Groove available for free online, Groove Networks has also created a free development kit for third-party developers to adopt existing applications to the Groove peer-to-peer collaborative environment.

Based almost entirely on XML with some JavaScript, developers at Groove Networks said the modular framework of the Groove platform works in conjunction with industry-standard programming COM-compliant tools like Visual Basic, C#, or C++.

In theory, this makes it relatively easy for programmers to write code enabling legacy applications for peer-to-peer collaboration via the Groove platform.

During yesterday's release event in New York, Intel Corp. Chairman Andrew Grove and Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates made surprise video appearances to tout the development potential of Groove.

"Ray has a history of building breakthrough applications. With Groove, he and his team have built a deep and innovative application that is a great example of where the Internet is going," said Gates, who hinted that Groove would play a role in the architecture of Microsoft .NET, the company's upcoming hosted software paradigm.

"Peer-to-peer computing will be a significant paradigm of the first half of this decade, and I look forward to working with Groove Networks to make it happen," said Grove.

While no specific pricing figures for the final version of Groove were announced, Ozzie said Groove Networks would earn its revenue through licensing of the Groove application, and through licensing relationships with business partners.

"We learned a lot from the years and years of what happened at Lotus," Ozzie said, adding that its relationship with business partners will be what ensures a viable business in the future.


Visit the Groove Networks Web site.

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