Long before the Internet became a
household word, Ray Ozzie envisioned a networked world where people
collaborated with ease regardless of the time or their location.
For that, he created Lotus Notes, which enabled employees within
companies to form teams and share notes, documents and e-mail.
Since 1989, Notes has sold more than 75 million copies.
Now, Ozzie is carrying his vision a step further. Within a few
weeks, he'll release Groove, which promises to improve how people
work together even if they work for different companies.
And if it catches on the way the Notes did, Groove could
profoundly change how employees, friends and families interact.
Imagine individuals in three different time zones all working on
the same sketchpad or whiteboard tracking changes and new
diagrams together. Or viewing the same video presentation. Or
editing text documents simultaneously.
All the while, they are communicating via text chat or voice
without having to pick up a telephone. With Groove, they can also
follow Web links together.
"Groove is intended to be a very flexible environment that
brings together the right people with the right information and the
right tools for that information at the right times," Ozzie said.
"I've got great hopes for it."
Other companies, too, are looking to accomplish what Groove
claims to have done and many analysts believe Microsoft Corp.
will want such capabilities in its .NET strategy for moving
collaborative computing to the Internet.
"It is competitive, but Groove is the first one out of the
gates in a serious way," said Brock Reeve, an analyst with Viant
Corp. in Boston.
Ford Calhoun, chief information officer at drug company
GlaxoSmithKline, gets new product pitches constantly and often
ignores them. For him, Groove was different.
"The reason one is willing to look at this with full intensity
early in its life cycle is because of the reputation of Ray
Ozzie," Calhoun said. "The guy, with Notes, totally changed the
way many people are able to collaborate and do work."
Groove essentially a software platform that companies and
individuals can build upon. It's not designed to replace existing
software applications but rather to let people use those
applications in new ways.
The software uses a peer-to-peer approach that largely bypasses
the performance constraints of computing that revolves around
Groove is somewhat like a Napster for businesses, except Ozzie
started work on it years before the online music-swapping service
As a computer science student at the University of Illinois
during the 1970s, Ozzie was exposed to PLATO, an online system
linking universities through bulletin boards. Upon graduating, he
discovered that the business world was largely devoid of such tools
and set out to change that.
"My passion has been in using technology to, in some way, shape
or form, augment human interaction," said Ozzie, low-key and
casually dressed in a sweater and corduroys this day. "Lotus Notes
was all about bringing people together."
As he worked on Notes, Ozzie began to notice changes in ways
Instead of working on everything in-house, companies began
partnering with outside firms to divide tasks. More and more,
employees needed to go outside their organizations for knowledge or
to complete projects.
But Notes wasn't really designed to cross corporate boundaries
well, given security firewalls and other hurdles, Ozzie said.
And for some, Lotus Notes ended up being no more than a
glorified e-mail system that required heavy management.
Groove intends to address Notes' shortcomings, Ozzie said, by
"bringing the spontaneity of e-mail, phone and fax to individuals
who need to work together regardless of whether they're in-house or
in another company."
With Groove's a peer-to-peer approach, if Bill needs a file from
Mary, Bill grabs it directly off Mary's computer. If Bob makes a
change, Groove automatically updates Bill's and Mary's copies.
This avoids the hassles of setting up special folders and
accounts on centralized company file-servers. The approach also
reduces bottlenecks and the need for massive computing power.
At Groove's offices, the difference is on display.
While businesses like America Online and Yahoo! have rooms full
of computers to run chat rooms and store Web pages, Groove's
command center has just a few workstations that serve as traffic
Most of the brunt work is handled by individual computers
The company's offices are low-key. Its more than 200 employees
occupy part of a former shoe factory outside Boston.
No snazzy giant purple sofas in the reception area like you
might find at Yahoo though the software is a vibrant lime green.
Ozzie started Groove Networks Inc. in 1997 using money he made
at Lotus, which IBM bought two years earlier for $3.5 billion.
Groove operated largely in secret until October, when a preview
version was released.
Ozzie, 45, said he got most of his ideas from "watching people
work and watching people interact." He observed how people used
Notes and computers, including what succeeded and what failed.
For Ozzie, Groove might be an easier sell than Notes.
"When we first started selling Notes, we were trying to sell
the benefits of many people knowing what you're working on and you
knowing what they're working on," he said. "Most people (then)
didn't have computers on their desks."
Now that a computer is standard issue in the business world,
people want to share certain data with select groups.
GlaxoSmithKline is interested in Groove to help its drug
researchers look at data and evaluate molecular compounds together.
Banks are looking to help customers develop financial plans.
The U.S. Defense Department is also evaluating Groove. The
former national security adviser, John Poindexter, is working with
the Pentagon on ways to improve collaboration. That could improve,
for example, interagency cooperation on Iraq's weapons capabilities
or help various agencies track international drug trafficking.
Although Groove will be initially marketed to businesses, Ozzie
expects families and friends to eventually use it to share photos
and coordinate get-togethers.
Esther Dyson, a technology analyst who writes the monthly
newsletter Release 1.0, said integrating all of these functions
is what makes Groove valuable.
"It's always possible to do any single thing," she said.
"What's difficult is to do 12 different things simultaneously. ...
You can say anything Groove does is not magic, but doing it in
concert is magic."