Integration reaches new heights with Groove

Online collaboration has quickly become the norm in both the private and public sectors, and there is no shortage of collaboration solutions from which to choose. Agencies with infrastructures based on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows and other Microsoft technologies will be tempted by the integration possible using Groove Networks Inc.'s Groove Workspace 2.5.

This release of the Groove colla- boration solution offers increased integration with Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft SharePoint. In addition, users will find improvements in downloading and new support for authentication.

Groove Workspace 2.5 is available for $149 per user for the Professional Edition and $69 per user for the Standard Edition. The company also has a helpful comparison of each edition's features online at www.groove.net/products/workspace/comparison.html.

The application runs on Windows 98, Me, NT 4.0 with Service Pack 5 or greater, Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Groove's Web browser support remains limited to Internet Explorer.

Although the application's tight integration with Windows and other Microsoft technologies can be a real boon for agencies with this infrastructure, agencies that operate heterogeneous environments will find this solution too narrow to be effective.

Competing solutions, such as those from SiteScape Inc., offer client-side support for any device with any Web browser. This support allows collaboration among a greater number of users across a much broader number of platforms and devices, including Linux, Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh and numerous mobile devices.

Rival Documentum Inc.'s eRoom also offers client-side support for several platforms, including Windows, Macintosh, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris and Linux. On the server side, IBM Corp.'s Lotus QuickPlace can fit into a greater number of agency infrastructures given its support for several operating systems, including IBM's OS/400.

Although Groove may be effective only in a Windows-based environment, the solution is solid and will provide a productivity boost at agencies that need to do a lot of collaboration. As with past Groove releases we have worked with, we tried creating shared spaces (collaboration environments) from within Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook, and we found the integration between these two products and Groove to be seamless.

In this release, Groove has added the capability to enable Outlook users to not only collaborate but also publish data between the two solutions. For example, we were able to publish Outlook calendar entries in Groove shared spaces as well as e-mail messages and e-mail attachments. Likewise, working in our Groove shared spaces, we could easily publish meeting events back into Outlook.

We had no trouble creating new shared spaces or adding tools to existing ones. For example, we added Groove's Project Manager tool to a shared space as well as access to files, which were subsequently updated by multiple users in the shared space. Unfortunately, we could not invite our test users on Macintosh and Linux to the shared space, but we were able to edit a variety of document types, including Adobe Systems Inc. Acrobat files, OpenOffice.org documents and the like.

Groove shared spaces are easy to navigate using the tabs at the bottom of the interface. We could quickly switch between shared Web browsing, working on our projects, editing documents and chatting with others. We also liked that the software enables users to change the look and feel of the interface with skins. A skin is a part of a graphical user interface that can be changed to modify the look and feel of the interface without affecting its functionality.

Download support in this release is much improved. In prior versions, files that were distributed to Groove's files area in a shared space were automatically dispersed to all participants of a shared space. Folders within the file area now can be set to automatically distribute files or to wait for manual retrieval. We found the manual setting worked well and was useful, especially when downloading files over slower connections.

Users participating in a Groove shared space can be authenticated in this release in one of two ways. Either users can provide authentication as we did with our test users or agencies can implement Groove's Management Server to provide the authentication function.

Also new in this release is support for Mobile Workspaces for Microsoft's SharePoint Team Services. This support allowed us to share documents and collaborate online and off-line and inside and outside the firewall. This support will prove useful for agencies that need to interact collaboratively with suppliers, customers and others beyond the agency's walls.

Groove also includes a forms tool that can be used to collect and share common information, such as frequently asked questions within the agency. Developers can use available tools from Groove to customize forms to specific agency processes. This support simplifies the creation of automated online workflows.

Agencies that want to integrate Groove technologies into Windows-based applications can do so via a Groove development kit that supports Visual Basic and VBScript. A second toolkit is also available for developers who might be building Windows-based applications and Web services using Microsoft's .NET technologies.

Groove Workspace 2.5 provides useful collaboration tools that can boost productivity and communication inside and outside the agency. The addition of a browser-based client, such as Mozilla, Opera, Internet Explorer or Chimera, that could interact in Groove shared spaces would certainly open the solution to a greater number of agencies, as would server-side support for other platforms. However, in its current form, the Groove solution will be a good fit for Windows-centric agencies. n

Biggs is a software engineer and freelance writer based in Northern California. She has more than 15 years of business and IT experience.

REPORT CARD

Groove Workspace 2.5

Score: B

Groove Networks
(978) 720-2000
www.groove.net

Groove Workspace costs $49 per user for the Professional Edition; $69 per user for the Standard Edition.

Although more Microsoft Corp. Windows-centric than its rivals, Workspace offers useful collaboration tools and tight integration with Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Corp. Lotus Notes. This release still only supports Internet Explorer, but security-minded agencies will appreciate the addition of Groove's Identity Security feature.

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