I can't help but conjure up images of King Arthur, chainsaws, demons, witches, and Bruce Campbell playing Ash in Army of Darkness anytime I say that word. Unfortunately, this post isn't about Army of Darkness. Instead, I want to discuss Microsoft Groove. Recently, I've heard some questions about Groove, such as:
"What is Groove?"
"Isn't that the same as SharePoint?"
"When should I use Groove?"
The answers to these questions, I figure, will make a pretty good post, so let's get to it!
Groove is a collaboration tool. It is designed to help you keep files synced between machines, share files with others, and provide a workspace for true collaboration among teams.
No. I was really tempted to just leave the answer as, "No," because I can be funny like that, but in order to fully understand what Groove does, it is helpful to understand how it is different from SharePoint, but also how it is the same.
Like SharePoint, Groove is a tool designed to help you manage files, create workspaces, and collaborate with your peers. But, they are very different tools. SharePoint is a server-based product. You connect to it in order to upload/download files. Groove, on the other hand, is a client that runs on your local machine. One of its main features is that you do not need access to your corporate server in order to use it. Let's use my team as an example. My team consists of several presenters located all over the US and our manager, who is located in Michigan. We are all running the Groove client. I have created a workspace for our team and invited my other team members to participate. Once they accept the invitation, the Groove client goes to work, syncing all of the data between the Groove clients. The workspace structure gets copied to all of the local Groove clients and everyone can see/use the tools installed in said workspace.
As for the tools which can be installed in your workspace, here's the list of tools available out of the box:
You can install any of these for use in your particular workspace. You can also set permissions to the various tools, folder structures, etc. so that only those who should see things can, in fact, see them.
Let's use the simplest example (which nicely coincides with the features we have installed in our workspace) and talk about a workspace with a Discussion Board and a Files section. This allows my team to post messages back and forth (more convenient and directed than e-mail) as well as share files. As far as the Files tool, you can control how files are accessed, using permissions, as well as how they are downloaded. By default, Groove will launch when you start Windows. When it has network connectivity, it will start uploading/downloading files to sync your workspace with the other workspaces in your group. You can manually configure how files are downloaded to avoid network congestion when you first logon (as shown below).
Because Groove tunnels through firewalls, it is, as I mentioned above, a superior choice for file sharing in some cases. If, for instance, you are on the road or at a job site, etc., and concerned about VPN connectivity, Groove is an obvious choice over an internal SharePoint site. Since Groove will still connect and download without VPN connectivity, you have access to all of your files whether you have a Corp connection or not. Because Groove also downloads files directly to your machine, it is also a superior choice for offline access to your files. (Although the "connect to" functionality in SharePoint now allows you to sync up file shares with Outlook 2007 for offline availability.) See the diagrams below for a visual representation.
Internal SharePoint server
Groove Clients and Relay Server
"How does this all work?" you ask? I'm glad you did. Groove does use a server to perform its technological feats. This server can be either a Groove Server in your organization or the publicly available Microsoft Groove Server. In either case, the Groove Server acts as "voicemail" for the Groove clients. If they can't connect to each other directly (peer-to-peer), then they will connect to the Groove Server to upload/download changes as needed.
"Is it secure?" Another great question! You are definitely on the ball today! The answer is, "yes." It is secure. All transmissions between the client/server as well as all the client/client traffic is encrypted using 192-bit encryption. The data isn't decoded on the public relay server, so your data is safe from end to end during the transmission. Once the data hits the other client, the Groove software decrypts the data and makes it available to the user.
"Isn't that a lot of data moving around on the network?" Depending on your use of Groove, a lot of changes can happen to your data during the course of a day. Fortunately, Groove syncs deltas, rather than entire workspaces. When something changes, Groove calculates the delta and this is the data that is actually synced across the network.
The answer is, in a nutshell, anytime you want to collaborate with other users. There is no right or wrong time to use Groove. Based on the feature sets of Groove and SharePoint, one or the other may be more appropriate for a specific task, though. If, for instance, you have a huge group of users who all need to collaborate and they are all connected to the same network 24/7, then SharePoint might be a better solution. Groove works best when it is used among smaller teams. There is a limit on the workspace size (I believe 2GB is the current limit), so it isn't intended to store all of your company's data. This, however, is where yet another "better together" story comes into play. SharePoint and Groove will play quite nicely together. You can break a project into teams, for instance, all of whom are using Groove. Each team gets its work done using the collaboration features found in Groove. Once the team's work is done, they can upload the data to a SharePoint site, giving everyone else on the larger project team access to their work. Not good enough? I can do better! Groove will actually sync up with a SharePoint library, too, so that you can keep all those files synced between your Groove workspace and your SharePoint document library automatically. (If you look at the picture of the Groove tools, you will see "SharePoint files" as one of the tools you can install.)
As you can see, Groove is yet another way to enhance the productivity of your people. It is a great collaboration tool when used alone or in conjunction with SharePoint. It can be purchased as a stand-alone product, but it also comes as part of the Office 2007 Enterprise and Ultimate Suites.