Does Microsoft have a gameplan for Groove?

Summary:At this week's summit for 1,800 of its Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs), questions about Microsoft's gameplan for Groove took center stage when attendees had a chance to ask questions of Chief Software Architect Ozzie and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

It's been ages since Microsoft has said much of anything about Groove, one of its most celebrated acquisitions.

By buying the floundering Groove Networks in 2005, Microsoft got its current Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie (as well as Ozzie's brother Jack and other Groove folks), as well as Groove's collaboration wares. But what has Microsoft done with Groove in the interim -- other than continue to try to explain why Groove and SharePoint don't really overlap?

At this week's summit for 1,800 of its Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs), questions about Microsoft's gameplan for Groove took center stage when attendees had a chance to ask questions of Chief Software Architect Ozzie and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Groove is designed to allow offline users or those outside a security firewall to collaborate with SharePoint users collaborating inside shared workspaces. Currently, Microsoft sells Groove as part of the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Office 2007, as well as a standalone product and annual subscription service (called Office Live Groove 2007). Groove is said to be successful with government customers, but I have to admit I seldom run across Groove customers in my travels.

MVPs expressed dissatisfaction this week with the coordination (or lack thereof) between the SharePoint and Groove development teams at Microsoft. One MVP's question about Groove's future resulted in Ballmer wondering aloud whether Microsoft might be helped by rebranding and repositioning Groove as "SharePoint Offline."

According to a transcript of Ballmer's remarks on April 17 at the MVP summit, he asked participants about how Microsoft should ease the confusion between SharePoint and Groove. Ballmer asked the MVPs:

"SharePoint offline, I'll just make a name up. That shows I'm not going to get any marketing awards, but would you like the design center for Groove to evolve to be much more SharePoint offline, or would you be happy to continue to see the two proceed with related, but independent, design points?"

Another unnamed MVP suggested to Ballmer that Microsoft needs to increase its own use of Groove inside the company and refrain from turning Groove into a subset of SharePoint. From the MVP's remarks, as quoted in the Ballmer transcript:

"Please don't dilute Groove as a platform in its own right. It has a value not necessarily dependent on SharePoint or anything else.

"Very often Groove is a much easier entry point into an organization. It's also a phenomenal platform on which to build real-world applications, and I'm talking of distributed ERP, point of sales systems, and a lot of things that benefit from the security, reliability, and the ease of use of Groove."

During Ozzie's Q&A with MVPs, another summit participant asked about Microsoft's future plans for Groove. From the Ozzie transcript:

"Is Groove the future UI (user interface) for SharePoint, because that would be just -- when you talk about your software as a service and talk about exposing services in new ways and in new UIs, there's a lot of overlap there? It seems like Groove really ought to be the way to leverage SharePoint on the desktop."

Ozzie's answer was (in typical Ozzie fashion), cryptic:

"You asked if Groove is the future UI of SharePoint. I might ask the same thing, is SharePoint the future UI of Groove.... They (Groove and SharePoint) are very, very complementary, and you will see in 14 and beyond increasing association with the things that you can do in SharePoint, and the things that you can do with Groove and the client, increasing levels of connections, both specific functions of the UI that are designed to work seamlessly with one another, increasingly the semantics underneath being brought together and so on. So, it's a good observation, and, yes, that is the strategy."

Update: SharePoint MVP John Milan had a good post that went further in deciphering the Ozzie-speak on what might happen with Groove and SharePoint, synergy-wise. 

Microsoft has been putting serious marketing muscle behind SharePoint and has been seeing the payoff in terms of sales. I really don't have a clue -- and wonder whether the Softies themselves do -- about Redmond could and should do with Groove. Anyone out there see a place Groove could add more value to Microsoft's Software + Services vision?

Topics: Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Software

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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