SharePoint Workspace: The renamed Groove has gotten groovier

Administration gets easier, but the new client functionality goes even further to ease users' SharePoint adoption

I loved Groove. And I can say that openly without all the Microsoft haters jumping down my throat because it wasn't created by Microsoft. Ray Ozzie's company Groove Networks put this incredible collaboration solution together and Microsoft scooped it up when it scooped up Ozzie a few years back. However, unlike other software products that get shelved when gobbled by the big fish, Groove was valuable, and Microsoft saw that. A quick tweak and it was released with the Microsoft Office 2007 suite.

Note: I say a quick tweak because Groove is one of those applications that didn't get enough of an overhaul with the full set of Windows 2007 Servers that Microsoft released for Office 2007, which included Forms Server, Groove Servers, Project Server, Project Portfolio Server, PerformancePoint Server, Communications Server, and SharePoint for Search. These are all very different server types, some relying on SharePoint Services, and others, like Groove, being a product unto itself.

[ Read the InfoWorld Test Center's review of SharePoint Server 2007, and get an early look at SharePoint 2010. | Read J. Peter Bruzzese's two-part series: "Getting into the Groove: Part 1" and "Getting into the Groove: Part 2." ]

Now, when I say I loved Groove, let me be clearer: I loved the client side of the process. The Groove client was a simple interface that allowed me to work online with others and collaborate, work offline and make edits and such, and then sync with others when I got back online. Groove had little snap-ins for notes, document libraries that connect to file servers or SharePoint libraries, forums for discussion, and even a Chess app that lets you play chess against fellow workspace folks. It worked great.

The server side, however, was a challenge. Three different Groove server types (Groove Manager, Groove Relay, and Groove Data Bridge) complicated the setup of an in-house Groove environment.

So long, Groove; hello, SharePoint Workspace 2010

With the forthcoming release of Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, you won't see Groove any longer. That's because the name has been changed to SharePoint Workspace 2010. Microsoft's view is that Groove is to SharePoint what Outlook is to Exchange, and you can see that new thinking reflected in the fact that SharePoint will have its own collaboration client; with previous SharePoint versions, it used a browser connection and the Office applications as its connection means.

As I noted, from an administrative perspective, deploying Groove was complicated, but deploying SharePoint is pretty straightforward. Microsoft's new approach should be much easier to deploy and manage, especially because SharePoint connects to your Active Directory, unlike Groove, which had its own directory and forced you to jump through hoops to get everything to play nice together.

Beyond the administrative side, strictly from a client-functionality angle, SharePoint Workspace is absolutely awesome. All the great features from Groove are still included. But now you can connect to and sync up with all the data on your SharePoint site. Groove already allowed you to connect to SharePoint Document Libraries, but now you can go further. This means all of the lists and libraries can be made available for offline viewing and revision. Take your SharePoint content on the go, and reach for it when you need information but don't have a connection or when you want to make revisions -- all of which will be synchronized when you reconnect.

Bridging the user document-management divide
In addition, SharePoint Workspace enhances the ability of a user to work with document libraries by providing a simple ribbon interface with easily found check-in/check-out options. This capability will be extremely valuable for users who have a hard time working with documents from a document library. They may be used to working with file shares and saving to folders on the Internet, but if you bring SharePoint into the mix, they may have to check out a document, check it in, and so forth -- a new process that can make them apprehensive about working with SharePoint.

To address that concern, the SharePoint Workspace client acts as a middleman to help users work with documents on their systems, as well as drag and drop new documents to the library. And because it synchronizes content for offline viewing, the SharePoint Workspace client even lets users search for documents from within their PC. It is a welcome bridge between your users (especially those who have to work offline at times) and your SharePoint content. Because your use of SharePoint is only going to grow over time, especially with the decommissioning of Public Folders in future Exchange versions, this middleman role is essential to user acceptance.

The library support also allows Office documents to gain new capabilities, the SharePoint Workspace team claims, including co-authoring, automatic merging, and differential sync. Just recently I had a chance to see a live demo of SharePoint 2010, and it amazed me how easy it was to pool data from business applications into SharePoint. But what impressed me even more was how you can now pull that data into the SharePoint Workspace application as well. Thus, you have information in a SQL database that can be pulled quickly and easily into a SharePoint site (and it becomes linked so that you can edit that data from the site), then synchronized with a SharePoint Workspace as an offline resource while on the go (but one that you can edit and resync later on). Truly impressive.

In support of the new release, Microsoft started a new SharePoint Workspace blog, where you can keep up with all the changes and new features and get tips and tricks on using SharePoint Workspace to the fullest. Of course, my blog will continue to share the key findings from both Microsoft's resources and from my own work with SharePoint.

Follow J. Peter Bruzzese on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JPBruzzese.

This story, "SharePoint Workspace: The renamed Groove has gotten groovier," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in SharePoint and Windows at InfoWorld.com.

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