A year after buying Groove Networks and its peer-to-peer technology, Microsoft has begun laying out plans to develop the software into the offline client that has been missing in its document collaboration story.
Office Groove 2007, which Microsoft introduced late last month, is being developed as the cache (offline) client for Microsoft's Windows SharePoint Services and the renamed SharePoint Server in Office 2007. Its offline capabilities provide better support for distributed work teams and mobile workers, who can take work offline - in much the same way as they do with e-mail - and synchronise changes once they're reconnected to the network. The current SharePoint client is a browser, which means users must be tethered to the network to create or edit any collaborative content.
Windows SharePoint Services is built into the Windows operating system and supports the creation of online team spaces. Those team spaces can be managed and made widely available via SharePoint Server.
The pairing of SharePoint and Groove means Office Groove users or subsets of project teams using Groove can check out documents from SharePoint sites, work on them offline or collaborate on them using Groove, and then synchronise their work with the overall project in SharePoint.
Office Groove also is the place where teams, whether within a company or across companies, can collaborate independently of SharePoint to create documents using the peer-to-peer connectivity of Groove workspaces. These are kept synchronised on every user's desktop via automated replication through a centralised server.
To support SharePoint's and Groove's checkout and synchronisation features, Microsoft is introducing a SharePoint Files tool that lets users bring specific folders or sub-folders into Groove that are part of larger projects stored in SharePoint. Files checked out of SharePoint are locked, so other users can't modify them until they are checked in.
In Groove 2007, Microsoft will drop the Mobile Workspace for SharePoint template that is part of the current Groove 3.1 client. The template replicated only entire sites to Groove. Also being dropped are the synchronisation features between Groove and Outlook.
The integration of Groove and SharePoint will bring other changes. Microsoft is adding routing and approval workflow capabilities to SharePoint Server, which is absorbing the feature set of the discontinued Content Management Server. Groove 2007 will support the InfoPath Forms Tool and the set of APIs currently in Groove 3.1.
Groove 2007 also will include tools found in Groove 3.1 for discussion, files, meetings, calendar, forms, issue tracking, Notepad, pictures and sketchpad. The company will ship a rapid application development tool called SharePoint Designer for building SharePoint applications and designing SharePoint sites.
Microsoft also is updating Groove's installation and deployment features to match those of Office. Microsoft plans to drop support for the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, which supports instant messaging in Groove 3.1, in favour of tighter integration with Office Communicator and its support of a similar real-time protocol called Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions.
Although the Groove client is being integrated with Office, Microsoft is not changing the back-end Groove infrastructure. The Groove Enterprise Management, Relay and DataBridge servers, however, are being combined into a bundle called Office Groove Server 2007. The Relay server will only be offered in a 64-bit version.