In March of 2005, Microsoft announced that it was acquiring Groove Networks. Groove is an interesting peer-to-peer collaboration tool that has many of the same functions as SharePoint, which is a portal-based solution. So it begs the question “How does Groove fit into Microsoft’s SharePoint strategy?” At the time of the acquisition, Ray Ozzie, Groove’s founder and now Microsoft Chief Technical Officer said:
“Distributed teams can use Groove to create ad-hoc workspaces that reside on team members’ PCs and later have the documents, plans and other workspace content published to a managed SharePoint Web Portal.”
Now that Microsoft is gearing up to deliver Office 2007, how will Groove support SharePoint, and vice versa?
First, the caveats: I’m the co-founder of Colligo, a company focused on supporting the collaboration needs of mobile teams. We’ve just released our Colligo for SharePoint product family, so while I will try to be unbiased, I am not a disinterested third party. I will be looking at the integration of Microsoft Groove 2007 Beta 1 with Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services. The capabilities of these products could change significantly prior to release by Microsoft and since the documentation is understandably thin at this point, I may not completely understand how all the products function yet.
In this first post on the subject, I want to look at what SharePoint is and how Groove’s support for it is being discussed publicly.
According to Microsoft, SharePoint is “…a development platform for creating collaboration and information-sharing applications.” In January, 2006 Kurt Delbene, Corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Office server group, commented,
“SharePoint Products and Technologies have become a key part of our strategy for delivering a complete working environment for information workers, where they can collaborate together, share information with others, and find information and people that can help them solve their business problems.”
Dustin Millers blog is an excellent review of the features coming in SharePoint 2007. He outlines a rich platform that includes calendars, surveys, discussions, lists, views, metadata, workflows, multi-level security and, yes, documents. So Windows SharePoint Services is much more than a document repository and its feature set is growing in 2007.
During the initial proof of concept phase for our offline SharePoint products, we interviewed a lot of systems integrators and during our beta engaged with about 250 end user customers. We found out that, in fact, customers are embracing the diverse tools in SharePoint to build unique applications. In particular, they are using custom lists, metadata and views, and plan to use the workflow features in Office 2007 to increase the productivity of their teams. In short, they told us that the “services” of SharePoint were of great value to them. The problem they had was using these services offline when they were traveling and/or occasionally connected to the Internet.
The need for offline SharePoint capability has been reinforced by bloggers such as Chris Chapman who calls it the “SharePoint Holy Grail”. Matt Cain, a Gartner analyst was quoted in Network World in March of this year
“…there is such a significant requirement for an offline store for SharePoint Services. It is mandatory to be able to take that stuff offline.”
However, there seems to be a bit of confusion about the extent of Groove’s offline support of SharePoint. For example, the same article states:
“Office Groove 2007…is being developed as the cache (offline) client for Microsoft’s Windows SharePoint Services and the renamed SharePoint Server in Office 2007.”
This would seem to indicate that Groove will enable users to take advantage of the services (not just the document libraries) in SharePoint when working offline. In contrast, Marc Olsen, Group Program Manager for Groove, who blogged last November about the changes coming in Groove 2007 (then called Groove 12) said
“For Groove 12, we’ve taken a different approach that we think matches more closely how we think people work as well as being more in-line with the long term direction for WSS and Groove…we’re deprecating [phasing-out] the current Mobile Workspace for Sharepoint template that ships in Groove 3.1…The model shifts from ‘site replication’ to ‘list replication’…For Groove 12 we are introducing a new Sharepoint Files Tool that lets you bring a particular document library or a folder from a document library into Groove.”
So which is it? Is Groove an offline client for SharePoint, meaning that it takes SharePoint site structure offline, or is it just for taking Sharepoint files offline and sharing them in a Groove workspace?
In subsequent postings on this topic I will look more closely at what is really offered in Groove 2007, including a detailed feature walkthrough of my testing of the offline Sharepoint capabilities of Groove 2007 Beta 1 and some of the advantages and limitations of the approach they have taken. I’d also like to look at compatibility issues such as which versions of SharePoint are supported in Groove 2007 and how the different Groove versions will work together. As always, your comments, questions and criticisms are welcome.