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4/8/2004
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Q&A With Groove Network's Ray Ozzie

Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes, realized a core aspect of Notes was absolutely wrong for products made by his next firm, Groove. Read how he's bidding for success without simply tweaking a previous victory.

Ray Ozzie, CEO of Groove Networks Inc. and creator of Lotus Notes, is arguably among the pantheon of industry visionaries. When Ozzie left Lotus in 1997 to found Groove, his notion of providing secure, decentralized intra-enterprise collaboration was ahead of its time. Companies were still only beginning to feel comfortable in a networked world, where IT was redefining business processes and removing barriers previously posed by geography and inefficient communication. Today, the business community understands the value of IT for coordination and communication, internally and externally; but it's still figuring out the right tools for the job.

With version 3 of Groove's secure collaboration software now in beta testing, Ozzie sat down with InformationWeek's Tom Claburn.

InformationWeek: What was the main problem Groove set out to solve?

Ozzie: It's version 3 of the product, and all that that implies. Anybody who has bought PC software over the years knows that version one brings the new concept out; version 2, you're getting the early refinements in; but version 3 is really the first sign of maturity of the product.

Let's start with that. In terms of performance, in terms of general usability and completeness, it's there. It's kind of boring, but that's very important. From a user perspective, what we were really trying to accomplish, beyond usability, was to really nail the concept of viral adoption [user to user]. Which means you bring the collaborative functions as much as you can into the place where the user really lives. In version 2, we addressed that by integrating it with E-mail--Outlook and Notes. With version 3, we're integrating it right into the file system.

This concept of file-sharing workspaces is a really, really big deal. It's intended to take the thing that most Windows users do and know and understand--which is saving files in the file system, generally with Microsoft Office--and put the ability to interact with other people directly right there.

Another thing that we're really trying to do is bring fast customization to the user in a much more dramatic way. Once you start integrating collaborative functions into what you're doing, it's important to make the shared space that you're working in very relevant to the kind of task that you're doing. So if you're working with others to address customer-support problems, you want the shared space that you're working in to feel like a customer-support issue-tracking system. If you're using it to deal with supply-chain exceptions, you want it to feel like that kind of system. So we put a forms-development environment in that's very sophisticated, yet [it's] very easy to build applications in. That's a big deal.

InformationWeek: It sounds broad enough to be described as a platform. Are you laying the groundwork for future developments through Web services?

Ozzie: Yes. Groove is both an end-user product and a platform. It's got to be out-of-the-box usable for basic, collaborative productivity uses. But because people want to customize it to the nature of what they do, it's a platform. And it manifests itself both in the forms type of programming environment and in the Web-services development environment. There's actually a third one that is a .Net development environment for those people; it just depends on how deep you want to go.

InformationWeek: Why is connecting people this way important?

Ozzie: Collaborative software in general (I've been working in this area for many, many years) and the fundamental reason why this kind of software exists is to reduce the cost of coordination between people. If people have to work together to get something done, there's always some kind of a coordination cost in terms of how long it takes to contact someone, to get across what I need to get across, to reach a common resolution, and so on. And that's the purpose of this kind of software.

Basically, the previous product I worked on, Lotus Notes, was really addressing initially the fact that organizations were changing. Organizations were getting bigger and more distributed. Groove's reason for being is that the nature of work itself is changing. We're working in a much more virtual manner. Depending on whose statistics you read, more than half of the information workers right now--people who use PCs and Microsoft Office--work from more than one location.

You might work from your home, you might work from your client's site, or you might work from a coffee shop. People are using 802.11b, they're using laptops, and they're working in a highly mobile fashion with other people. Groove is specifically oriented to be a virtual office that lets you work with other people in a very secure, self-synchronizing environment wherever you are with your laptop.

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