Groove touts performance in updated Virtual Office

Collaboration software vendor Groove Networks Inc. next week plans to announce an updated version of its flagship software, which it said will offer better security, improved performance and new ease-of-use features.

Previously known as Groove Workspace 2.5, Groove Virtual Office 3.0 has faster launch times and allows multiple Groove project workspaces to be opened without a noticeable performance hit, according to Andrew Mahon, director of strategic marketing at the Beverly, Mass.-based company. The product also includes a new on-screen launch bar, where contacts with other collaborators can be managed from a single place, as well as synchronization capabilities that allow users to automatically share folders on their Windows machines with other users.

In addition to Groove’s existing forms-editor tools, the 3.0 release includes 10 forms templates designed to allow users to more quickly use standard forms for their collaboration projects.

On the server side, the newest version of the software includes third-party private-key infrastructure security, as well as built-in auditing capabilities and back-up functions.

Richard Prather, CIO and vice president of technology for CARE, said the worldwide humanitarian relief agency began using Groove last year for about 70 relief workers in Central America and about 40 IT staffers. He’s pleased with how it allows remote workers to do their jobs even if an online connection isn’t immediately available. Users can take advantage of Groove’s offline work capabilities and then sync up automatically with other group members when they’re able to go online, he said.

That is a big benefit in remote locations where online connections and even electricity can be frequently cut off, Prather said. The application is also easy to use and intuitive — even for users without a lot of computer experience, he said.

The Groove software is part of a five-nation pilot project called “Information Anywhere” that Atlanta-based CARE is conducting over six months “to determine how to operate in a very decentralized environment with no or poor connectivity,” he said.

Another user, Glen Johnson, director of the U.S. State Department Iraq Transition Management staff in Washington, said Groove was chosen for a pilot project by his agency primarily because it offers better security. “No (competing products) other than Groove secured the data in transit and on the desktop,” Johnson said.

Ethan Schoonover, e-business director in Asia for London-based advertising agency Lowe & Partners Worldwide, said some 300 workers at his company have been using Groove for preparing ad pitches, managing accounts and performing strategic research.

Version 2.5 of the software works as advertised, and many of the new features in Version 3 are a “great example of a company really listening to user feedback and implementing requested features,” Schoonover said.

Ease of use is a big plus, he said. “Even our technophobe users could get the hang of it and get comfortable with it,” Schoonover said. “Groove 3.0 has cleaned up and streamlined the (user interface), and overall performance is radically improved. Launch of Groove, launch of workspaces, messaging is all significantly faster. This alone addresses a key issue with 2.5, that it was sometimes sluggish. The 3.0 memory footprint seems to be smaller in our initial review, which reduces its impact on older systems.”

With user data stored on the user’s machine and automatically synced when online, “this is the killer app for us,” Schoonover said.

David Marshak, an analyst at The Patricia Seybold Group Inc. in Boston, said Groove’s key strength is that it combines real-time online collaboration capabilities with offline workspaces. “The integration … is much better than anyone else has even attempted,” he said.

Peter O’Kelly, an analyst at Burton Group in Boston, said Groove’s natural competitors include Lotus Notes/Domino, which was invented by Groove’s founder, Ray Ozzie, and other products such as Microsoft Corp.’s SharePoint and Macromedia Inc.’s Breeze. But none match Groove’s exact feature set of security, collaboration and online/offline work capabilities.

“It really is at a sweet spot with a combination of features that no one else has completely,” O’Kelly said.

Pricing starts at US$179 per user for Virtual Office Professional Edition, with hosted relay and management services starting at US$40 per user a year. Customers can also choose to host their own Groove servers, starting at US$9,995 per server per year.

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