Groove Redux

I downloaded Groove to play with it again. Anyone want to test it out with me? My Groove ID is russellbeattie. Share a space and ping me!

This is hardly the first time I've played with Groove. I downloaded it early last year after it first came out and also a few months ago after 2.0 was released, but I wanted to check it out again now to see if there's anything really different. And also because Ray is blogging now and that's cool and it piqued my interest in Groove again. But I'm still thinking that Groove's got all the right ideas - mostly borrowed from Notes - but I have serious doubts about it's implementation.

Here's some observations I've made about Groove over the past year or so. At the beginning Groove was making noise about being developer agnostic - you could create Tools by using their collection of XML file formats and whatever language you wanted - VB, Java or even JavaScript if you wanted to. But now it's obvious that Groove is basically a Microsoft only area. That's too bad. Also, it's becoming apparent exactly how difficult it is to develop custom apps for Groove - it's not Notes Next Generation by any stretch. More than a year after the initial introduction of Groove and there's the same exact included Tools and a short collection of decent third party ones. I have to assume that using their XML file formats without any sort of GUI proved way too difficult for most developers to deal with. (It was for me!)

If you haven't noticed, there's not much variety in Groove apps. It's mostly just eye-candy you're looking at. Here are the basic apps that come with Groove - combined in various ways to make up "Toolsets":

  • Threaded Discussion
  • Calendar
  • Outliner
  • Notepad
  • Forms
  • Task List
  • Contact Manager
  • Files
  • Pictures
  • Sketchpad
  • Browse Together
  • Chat/Voice-Chat
  • Group Security

This is pretty basic stuff. Why hasn't anyone done this app in Java already?!? I had this thought when Groove first came out and P2P was hot that it wouldn't be too hard to create a similar application in Java that used something I called "peerlets". Peerlets would be full-fledged Java apps you could pass around in .jars and that ran locally, but were restricted to a Java sandbox (unless signed). Java has amazing security which Sun's had years to get right. You can create sandboxes for any Java app and restrict access to the local system down to the process. Seems to me that some JXTA wizards should get on this - Groove needs a non .Net competitor!

Remember that the most powerful thing about both Lotus Notes and Groove is that you can synchronize the application along with the data. This is pretty unique to both of these products. Almost every other application out there treats apps and data as separate entities and that's a huge problem. The web worked around the app/data issue by centralizing the application to be in one place and encouraging connectivity everywhere. But that doesn't help you on an airplane (now - soon even airplanes will come with standard internet connectivity).

The second most powerful thing about both of these apps (Notes and Groove) is their security. I worked at Aerospace in El Segundo, California helping on a Notes project there to roll out security keys to everyone. Once a Notes app is set up for it, creating really secure entries in Notes that will ONLY be seen by those with the right key is trivial. This is a good thing. I think Ray is right on the money by encouraging that the default security for apps is totally secure. Share what you want to, but the rest stays put. That's one of the main problems with standard internet stuff right now - by default it's not secure. And though you may argue that blogs have shown us that being open is better and more productive, being secure should always come first. This is really the problem that Groove solves and that should be addressed by ANY tool being developed now.

Compare the functionality of Groove to that of Rebol for example. Rebol is more of a dev language than an environment like Groove, but there are serious similarities in the way that Rebol's been developed to share info. Rebol apps and their data are closely linked also. Though Rebol isn't P2P per se - but the fact is that Groove isn't either - not unless you can guarantee that all the people in your work group will be online at exactly the same time to synchronize data. Groove, like Rebol works best with a centralized server helping out.

Here are Rebol's default apps:

  • Conference
  • Roll-Call
  • Taskmaster
  • Presenter
  • Messenger
  • Agenda
  • Calendar
  • Brainstorm
  • Desktop
  • Poll
  • Journal
  • Expert
  • Notify
  • Reserve
  • Auction
  • Outliner
  • Contacts
  • Whiteboard
  • Timeline
  • Revisor

Do you see similarities? Lots - it's all basic sharing of data for workgroup stuff. The difference, however, is that Rebol contains NO DEFAULT SECURITY. This is huge. And it's why Rebol won't ever be more than an interesting side-project for most developers.

Just my observations... I know I had a point in there somewhere. Oh yeah, I know. So compared to other similar products, Groove is doing the right thing. But its implementation needs serious work. Blogs have shown us that sharing information is the way to go. More sharing is better. We all share our thoughts in centralized places where everyone can get to it. We all can comment on our blogs in other shared places. But Groove is still partitioning up that data, putting it on the users desktop where it can be pulled offline at any time, and blocking access by default. Though security is good and vital - Groove needs to have a concept overhaul. It needs to be an organizing tool that considers web clients just as important as Groove peers. Every Groove client needs to be able to share its info via a normal web server, sorta like Userland's Radio. Otherwise, Groove just becomes a bad version of Notes, really.

And finally, blogs have shown us once again the power of the lowly web browser, which Groove only includes as a sort of afterthought. My mom knows how to use a browser, but she'd never understand Groove in a million years. This is the litmus test we all should go by.


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