Groove gets busy with Windows Messenger

Groove Networks Inc. unveiled a new version of its collaboration software Monday that adds support for products from its new industry partner Microsoft Corp., including the ability to exchange instant messages with Windows Messenger users.

First released a year ago, Groove's client software allows users to share and edit documents at the same time from multiple locations over the Internet. It has Groove's instant messaging software built in, which allows users to communicate while collaborating on documents.

Groove Version 1.3, made broadly available Monday, has been geared to run most efficiently on Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, sharing a similar user interface and making use of the instant messaging technology built into the new operating system, Groove said. As part of the integration between the two products, users of Groove's peer-to-peer application can now chat with Windows Messenger users.

"Obviously, (Groove) has a privileged relationship with Microsoft now," said Rob Batchelder, an analyst with Gartner Inc, noting that a recently announced financial relationship between the companies provides a new incentive to build compatible technologies.

Groove, a Beverly, Massachusetts -based start-up founded in 1997 by Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie, secured a US$51 million investment from Microsoft on Oct. 10, and said at the time that it would work with the software giant to develop and market new peer-to-peer technologies. "Microsoft prior to this has been very open to working with companies to create hooks to operate with its MSN network," said Batchelder, who watches peer-to-peer and other content delivery technologies. "This is just another manifestation of that."

For users of Groove's product and Microsoft's Windows Messenger software to chat with each other, they must first "invite" each other into a session by sending a notification request. The applications are more tightly integrated for Windows XP users, who can automatically jump from a Windows Messenger chat session into Groove collaboration.

Prior to the announcement, Groove users could only chat with each other using the messaging software included with its peer-to-peer client. Similarly, Windows Messenger users could chat only with other Microsoft users. That incompatibility issue applies to other players in the market as well, such as Yahoo Inc. and AOL Time Warner Inc., although a handful of providers currently are testing interoperability across their competing platforms.

Groove Version 1.3 is also designed to let users share and collaborate on Microsoft Office documents, so that multiple users of the product can simultaneously edit a Microsoft Word document, for instance, from separate desktops.

The newfound relationship between Microsoft and Groove points to a new direction the Redmond, Washington, software maker is taking to enhance the real-time communication features in its products, analysts said.

"The use of peer-to-peer in the corporate arena seems to be an area that is growing," said Matt Bailey, an analyst with Webnoize Inc., a research firm focusing on peer-to-peer technologies.

"Microsoft seems to be pretty keen on the idea of peer-to-peer communications, and although the majority of consumers really identify it with sharing music and video, there are an increasing number of companies taking that technology and building it into their corporate networks," Bailey said. "Microsoft stands to gain if they can dovetail that into their other products, for example the desktop applications."

Coinciding with the upgrade to its product, Groove said Monday that it has sold 10,000 licenses for the software to Dell Computer Corp., who will use it to let employees share documents and communicate in real time via the Internet. Other Groove customers include GlaxoSmithKline PLC, a pharmaceutical research company.

Groove also said it has released a test version of three new server products that allow enterprise customers to run the Groove application from behind a firewall. They include the Groove Enterprise Integration Server, which hosts so-called "bots" that can send out notifications or search internal databases; the Groove Relay Server, which manages the use of bandwidth by controlling what gets sent over an organization's network; and the Groove Enterprise Management Server, for deploying the Groove client application to multiple users in a network.

"The enterprise servers are absolutely essential because companies like peer-to-peer and other stuff like collaboration and instant messaging, but they don't want to do it over the public networks," Batchelder said. "The release of these new server software products I think is going to remove one of the major concerns that enterprises have."

Groove Version 1.3 will be available for enterprise customers in the U.S. by the end of November, the company said. The application costs $49 per user for the basic software. The test versions of Groove's enterprise products can be downloaded now for free from Groove's Web site. They will be available for purchase during the first quarter of 2002, the company said.

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