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Groove Workspace 2.0

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  • Editors' rating
    6.8 Good

Pros

  • Includes a powerful suite of collaboration tools
  • easy to learn
  • integrates well with Microsoft Word, Outlook and PowerPoint
  • clean, intuitive interface.

Cons

  • Difficult to install
  • doesn’t support many applications
  • occasionally sluggish
  • no Mac version.

If you find yourself spending more time organising meetings and hunting down conference call numbers than actually working with your colleagues, try Groove, a new conferencing system/collaboration tool. Developed by Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes, Groove lets you share documents, draw diagrams, co-edit documents and chat using a built-in messenger -- all from a single interface. If you use Microsoft Project frequently and consider yourself a Microsoft Office expert, opt for the $99 Professional Edition. Otherwise, busy sales teams, design shops and individual workers should consider the $49 Standard Edition.

Think of Groove as a combined whiteboard, instant messenger, conferencing application and file manager. With this tool, you can create an unlimited number of shared spaces in which co-workers can join you. What's a space? Essentially, it's a shared environment where you can co-edit documents, play games such as chess and noughts-and-crosses, share files, draw diagrams and chat using a built-in messenger.

To install Groove, you can start by downloading a free version, which limits you to five shared spaces at a time. After the 90-day preview period, you must choose between the Standard Edition, which provides unlimited shared spaces and basic collaboration tools for $49 (about £34), or the $99 (about £68) Professional Edition which includes everything in the Standard package, plus more advanced tools, such as the ability to import and export files using Microsoft Project. Most businesses will find the Standard package adequate, so unless you use Microsoft Project frequently, skip the Professional package.

Unfortunately, our attempts at installing Groove weren't exactly groovy. In one case, where we were using a 300MHz machine running Windows 98, the installer simply wouldn't open properly. In another test, we received a number of ‘missing DLL’ errors. However, to Groove's credit, its technical support was helpful, and in each case, reinstalling the application did the trick. Another drawback is the fact that, for now, Groove works only on Windows systems.

Once you're up and running with Groove, you can start simultaneous editing sessions of Microsoft Word documents and review PowerPoint presentations. And if you use Microsoft Outlook, try the Outlook Onramp wizard, which lets you turn an email discussion into a Groove group simply by pressing a button that Groove slaps on Outlook's interface. In your project space, you can create shared documents in Groove's Text Pad tool or import pre-existing documents or photos to shared directories. Unfortunately, you can only use Word, PowerPoint and Outlook. Hopefully, Groove will include other applications in the next release.

Groove lets you create customised templates for collecting data from members of your team, which is a nice feature. You can make forms in the Form tool, for example, to collect information on job applicants, to take a survey, or to do anything else where standardised input is necessary – it’s a great way to keep track of the fruits of a Groove session with your team. We had fun using Groove's tools (chess, anyone?) and didn't encounter problems sharing or co-editing docs, but Groove was sometimes annoyingly sluggish when we switched among tools.

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Groove doesn't come with a manual, but you can download one from the Web site. Although the program is fairly intuitive, enterprise customers can set up on-site training for a fee -- you'll need to get a quote from a Groove salesperson. With Groove offering so much for free, anyone who needs to collaborate on projects should give it a try.

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