Groove improves its virtual space

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Team players

Groove Workspace, a peer-to-peer collaboration tool from Groove Networks Inc., has become something of a darling of the federal government, thanks largely to its extra-tight security.

Besides employing 192-bit encryption, it requires special steps to authenticate new users. A stolen notebook PC is no concern, since Groove data is also encrypted on the hard drive, so the thieves would need your password to get in.

Groove meets the new Defense Department 8100.2 directive for wireless network security. The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, for example, uses Groove Workspace to set up ad-hoc, secure Internet collaboration with partners and Iraqi officials.

As a peer-to-peer networking product, Groove Workspace doesn't require a central server for administration and data storage, though you can add a server for these purposes, and for the presence awareness that tells you when team members are available.

Another advantage, the company claims, is that you can use it offline, unlike browser-based collaboration tools that require a constant network connection. Users invite other users into secure, Web-based workspaces, where they post to discussions boards, send chat messages, and share documents and other files.

I tried out Groove Workspace Professional Edition 3.0 this summer.

The major new feature in 3.0 is the Groove LaunchPad, a small, IM-sized window for accessing common workspace tasks, such as searching contacts and inviting them into workspaces.

'It definitely has an IM look and feel, because that's what people are more familiar with,' said Richard Eckel, Groove's vice president of marketing communications. A new file-sharing features lets team members get at shared files, even from behind firewalls, avoiding what Groove calls e-mail attachment 'volleying.' This also enables secure remote team access at home and on the road.

Groove also claims performance enhancements and a friendlier Workspace Explorer, which provides convenient navigation icons and toolbars.

For several days, I joined a shared workspace created by Eckel, and made a new workspace by inviting myself using an alternative e-mail address. I was impressed by the instant, real-time feel to the group interaction, and the ability to keep documents, discussions, chat and e-mail together in one handy space.

My problem with Groove was getting to know my way around its somewhat complicated user interface. While it's true the LaunchPad and Workplace Explorer are simple, central locations for getting to all the key applications, they tend to take over the screen once they pop up. It's hard to back out to the original location; you have to X out the pop-ups, not the hardest task, but still somehow inelegant.

I tried the previous Groove (Version 2.5) and can see the major improvements in ease of use, but more still needs to be done to make Groove a daily habit like e-mail.

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