Interview: Ozzie's Groove moves toward edge services

Groove CEO reveals plans to add SOAP-based services to collaboration platform

AS GROOVE NETWORKS ships Groove 2.0 with enhanced tools for integration with Microsoft Office, Groove CEO and co-founder Ray Ozzie sat down with InfoWorld Test Center Director Steve Gillmor and revealed plans to add SOAP-based services to its peer services collaboration platform.

InfoWorld: Do you have plans for integrating Weblog functionality into Groove?

Ozzie: We'll be moving in that direction. I had all these plans about nine months ago. We were going to pop some SOAP [simple object access protocol] interfaces on the back of the Outliner tool ... and the whole thing blossomed into this big edge services thing. It's way, way bigger than anything we had imagined and it's really reshaping the future of Groove. By the time we ship that by the end of the year, it'll be easy to hook it up to the Blogger APIs and do collaborative Weblogging. The UIs of these things are not very complicated.

InfoWorld: What do you mean by edge services?

Ozzie: Edge services are a Web services interface on top of everything that Groove is. Web services that are being exposed at the edge of the network, meaning all the way out on the client PC. Edge services in Groove are SOAP interfaces, a vast array of WSDL [Web services description language] schemas, and a new server product. I'm not sure what it'll be called yet, but it's essentially a SOAP relay. It represents a stable point on the Internet that a calling application calls into, and that server routes the request out to where the client happens to be connected to the network at that point in time. It will be used in two ways -- first, by standard Web applications that want to integrate some collaborative functionality into themselves. And secondly by alternative devices such as the Pocket PC code that Jack [Ozzie] demoed at your [InfoWorld NextGen] Web Services Conference -- primarily using things like the .Net Compact Framework to build applications that integrate themselves into collaborative scenarios.

Every one of the major Groove tools has, or will have when it ships, a Web services interface. The Discussion Tool will have a discussion interface, the Forms Tool a record-based interface, the Sketch Tool a sketch-based interface --and the methods on those interfaces are appropriate for those types of tools. The way these tools were designed, because we used XML from the ground up in Groove, the interfaces that we're exposing are largely the interfaces that are already there but are currently locally called by the Groove UI [user interface] as opposed to being remotely called. So we're exposing the currently locally accessible only Web interfaces out via SOAP, XML, WSDL, etc.

InfoWorld: Given the difficulty of wiring individual Groove shared spaces together, would these SOAP interfaces give you the ability to do that both externally and internally?

Ozzie: Yes, it would. Here are the issues: What is the programming environment that someone wants to live in when they're building an app? And if they want to build an app that is deployed on the client, they'll be using Visual Studio.Net and writing within the Groove UI. If they want to write something for integration into a different app -- for integration into a Web-based app [or] for integration out of another device -- they'll use the SOAP-based UI. They might even use the SOAP-based UI in another process on the same machine. There's nothing that keeps it from being used on the local host.

InfoWorld: You could conceivably write a Visual Basic or VS [Visual Studio] app that served as a front end to create an information router between separate shared spaces?

Ozzie: Absolutely.

InfoWorld: Do you have anything like that underway internally?

Ozzie: That is all part of the same project, absolutely. I just want to make one thing clear: Groove's core mission in life is to create a secure shared space amongst the people who are working within it. There are certain expectations of it operating like a secure sandbox. People expect that they aren't wiring things to things on the outside unless they're very aware of it. Otherwise it wouldn't be viewed by the people using it as secure. The technology will be available to do that through these interfaces. How that technology is used remains to be seen -- somebody might use it for simple systems integration, somebody might use it to create a new UI -- it's still the same shared space paradigm. It's very important to make sure that people understand that the design center is the secure shared space and what some people might view as a bug, some people view as a feature.

InfoWorld: By copying data from one shared space to another -- unless all of the people in shared space A are also in shared space B -- you're breaking the security model.

Ozzie: That's exactly right, and that's why we created the bot server, this enterprise integration server. With that [agent] architecture, the bot has an identity of its own. If the people are cognizant of that bot being present and can ask the question "What's it doing here?" you can say "Oh, it's promoting stuff from one shared space to another" or "It's integrating [with] SAP." Then it fits within the user paradigm. So we have a little learning to do.

InfoWorld: What can you say about the Office integration features in Groove 2.0 and their relevance to Microsoft's plans to integrate peer services into future versions of the Office platform?

Ozzie: Windows XP has some really cool real-time communication features that I will argue are under-exploited. They're there, but people don't know if the people on the other side are running XP or they don't know if they're configured correctly. Office XP has some really cool collaboration features related to review cycles principally -- marking things up, integrating those changes, etc. Again, they are under-utilized. I might even call them latent features because I don't think people know they're there. They're hidden on the menus, or maybe not hidden but just one of many features. There's a lot of power there.

My goal on behalf of the customer and user is for Groove to bring out the latent collaboration power within both Windows XP and Office XP. And it's my goal, and I'm sure Microsoft's goal, that when an enterprise unlocks their locked down desktop configurations to install Groove, they're installing Office XP and Windows XP at the same time. It's a good set of things that work together to accomplish a specific objective. Groove XP plus Office XP plus Windows XP equals a great, secure communication and collaboration environment, from all the way at the apps level to down in the communications level.

InfoWorld: What is Groove XP?

Ozzie: What I mean is Groove with all the hooks into Office and Windows XP. The only Windows XP-specific hooks that are there right now hook into the [Windows] Messenger code. But we are planning more features that will emerge as the year goes on that hook us into Office XP specifically, and Windows XP a little bit more deeply.

InfoWorld: With the repositioning of Microsoft's Hailstorm [.Net My Services] initiative from a consumer model toward a federated enterprise server product, does that affect your roadmap and what you see as the value proposition of the Windows Messenger Services that you're working with already?

Ozzie: Groove's target market right now is enterprise -- I'll call it business individual, the person who uses Microsoft Office within a business to get something done. The fact that My Services' focus is toward enterprise and toward enterprise servers means it's probably more relevant than it was when it was being talked about as a consumer Web service. And to the extent that it becomes the primary API on top of their various server offerings, it impacts what we do pretty dramatically in terms of how we interchange messages, calendars, contacts, [and] the various data types with those servers.

InfoWorld: Do you see the Hailstorm API slip-streamed into or overhauling the .Net server architectures?

Ozzie: The Hailstorm APIs were an effort to create a contemporary Web services interface on top of a set of generally useful services. And Microsoft has servers and other products currently out there that are providers of those services in those same categories. They have a directory, messaging, calendar, all these other things. So I would just simply say "What is the evolution of their server products with respect to those contemporary Web services APIs?" And then all of a sudden a whole new world opens up in terms of "Wow, okay. ... If I could imagine all servers and apps that Microsoft has as potential sources of new and interesting Web services, what would emerge and how would we use them?"

Groove deals in identities, calendars, messages, [and] records, and anywhere that Microsoft servers or apps provide instantiations of those services, we're going to hook onto them. If there are other vendors who have interesting servers that provide Web services with identities and contacts and stuff, there will be a lot of people who are interested in them and will hook up to those as well.

InfoWorld: Have you talked at all with any of the Jxta team or any of the Liberty Alliance players?

Ozzie: Not substantive enough that I would call them discussions with a capital D. Different people have different views of the services that they're going to be providing, and there's a whole lot of industry politics going on in that zone that I'm not a part of.

InfoWorld: Are you developing Notes integration services comparable to the Outlook services that you're introducing in Groove 2?

Ozzie: A lot of our customers are Notes customers. Therefore they're asking us those questions, and we're definitely considering putting those same kinds of things or similar things into the Notes environment. Recently [IBM subsidiary] Lotus announced a whole bunch of changes in their strategy, and we're trying to make sure that what we do aligns with where they're going or where they're not going.

Notes is a very useful product that's been used by many, many, many very significant customers worldwide. There's a huge investment that customers and partners have made in that technology. The changes, as I've read them, are very substantial and will affect every customer and every partner that has an investment in Notes. Virtually every one of those customers or partners is going to have to start reviewing their strategies for how they're going to be moving forward with Notes over the next months and years to come.

InfoWorld: Do you see any comparable product in the IBM space to what Groove provides?

Ozzie: No.

InfoWorld: Are Notes customers are going to have a harder time taking advantage of Groove resources than Outlook customers?

Ozzie: No, I wouldn't say that at all. We're want to make it as easy as possible for any given user to hop into Groove from any product that they're using, from Notes or Outlook mail or Office. We want to make it a one-button press to get into Groove as quickly as you can. Whether it's Notes 4 or 5 or 6, whenever it comes up, the client capabilities are different, and technically how we would hook up to those different versions are different, which is why I'm trying to evaluate what customers are going to want. The reason I said that it may change in light of IBM's announcement is because I would presume that there will be some customers that are re-evaluating whether they're even going to go to Notes 6, based on those announcements.

InfoWorld: Because of the deprecation of the NSF [native Notes file] format, among other things?

Ozzie: Yes sir.

InfoWorld: What about the wireless plans for Groove? Some of us who would love to be in Groove more of the time see V.2's SMTP mail features as the beginnings of a gateway to the BlackBerry, for example.

Ozzie: You have to break the conversation into two pieces. One is alerts and notifications, and the other is use of wireless devices as alternative clients or app integration using wireless devices. On the notification side we are most distinctly, definitely on the path to implementing a broad variety of ways of notifying people that things have happened in Groove. V.2 is dramatically better than V.1 in that on a per tool basis, you can select to be notified with a taskbar indication, or an unread icon, or nothing when activity occurs within that tool. That lets users tune into their own usage of the product based on what's going on within shared spaces.

The next logical evolution is to drop it into either .Net Alerts or other mechanisms so that on your BlackBerry or Treo or whatever, you'll get a notification saying "Hey, this and this and this happened in Groove." And the question is "What then?" Are you able to do something within that wireless device or do you go back to your PC? In some cases you'll go back to your PC. But with the edge services offering, we're now in the situation where you'll be able to whip up a very small, compact, perhaps browser-based, interface, to something that might be going on within a shared space tool. It might not be as rich, it might not be as responsive, but it'll surely provide access to the information, what's going on in those two worlds.

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