Microsoft Groove jumps onto SharePoint bandwagon

In a belated move, Microsoft Corp. plans to turn the Groove collaboration software it acquired in 2005 -- along with its now-chief software architect Ray Ozzie -- into its main application for workers to access content stored on SharePoint servers, even while offline.

Groove will be renamed SharePoint Workplace and will be released in the first half of next year as part of Office 2010.

"SharePoint Workspace 2010 will enable a whole new set of scenarios that [will] help customers be more productive with Office and SharePoint through a more seamless online/offline experience," a Microsoft spokeswoman wrote via e-mail today. "SharePoint Workspace will enable users to take SharePoint sites offline and work with the content on people's desktops whether or not they are connected."

Linking the overshadowed Groove to the fast-growing SharePoint platform is a good move, said Robert Helm, an analyst with the independent Directions on Microsoft.

Microsoft said in March 2008 that it had sold 100 million licenses of SharePoint and pulled in more than $1 billion in related revenue.

That momentum "has Microsoft and everyone else rethinking how Groove should fit into SharePoint's world," Helm said.

While SharePoint still lags its Web 2.0 counterparts in features, its free-to-start price, tie-in with other Office software and greater potential for reliability over cheaper SaaS offerings such as Google Docs or Zoho has helped it take off, said Chris Le Tocq, an analyst with Guernsey Research.

"If you need five 9s (99.999%) uptime, you need to spend a little money," Le Tocq said.

Microsoft also plans to include SharePoint Workspace and OneNote in the Professional Plus suite in Office 2010. Groove and OneNote, a digital note-taking app, are today available only to buyers of Office's two most complete, and priciest, versions: Office Enterprise 2007 and Office Ultimate 2007.

That will essentially lower the price for SharePoint Workspace relative to Groove and may reinvigorate growth, which has been moribund since Groove was bought by Microsoft in March 2005, Helm said.

"My impression is that Groove never had a huge customer base, and I don't get the sense that Microsoft has grown it very substantially," he said.

Too late for Office 2007

Microsoft first hinted at the change via blog two weeks ago.

Independent blogger Paul Thurrott, meanwhile, has screenshots of the beta of SharePoint Workspace 2010.

Groove's trademark is that it uses peer-to-peer (P2P) technology to synchronize documents and files between users. That cuts down on bandwidth requirements and allowed users to collaborate quickly and securely even if they are at different companies.

That is a feature that SharePoint, which requires a central server inside a company, is not agile at enabling today.

"Groove is Notes v2, in some sense," said Helm, referring to Ozzie's role as one of the original co-creators of Lotus Notes. On the other hand, Groove never delivered the features of modern social networking tools, such as blogs and wikis, Helm said.

Microsoft also acquired Groove too late in the development cycle of Office 2007 to integrate it into Office at more than a superficial level, he said.

Microsoft "did the standard things: made local-language versions, got it into the Office installer, and other 'fit-and-finish' things," Helm said. Office 2010 "will be the first release to see how Groove/SharePoint Workspace really fits into Microsoft's overall strategy for SharePoint and Office 2010."

Besides letting workers access SharePoint content while they are on an airplane or otherwise disconnected from their corporate network, SharePoint WorkSpace will continue to work as a standalone, P2P-based collaboration tool independent of SharePoint Server, the Microsoft spokeswoman said.

"In essence, customers are getting two great products in one," she wrote. Microsoft didn't provide details on what other features will be in SharePoint Workspace.

Workers who already, in effect, use SharePoint offline through such tools as Outlook's shared calendars and tasks may not notice much of a change, since Groove will operate mostly in the background, not as a front-end authoring or editing tool, Helm said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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