Online Extra: Q&A with Groove's Ray Ozzie

The father of Lotus Notes talks about his new technology, which supports a broad range of peer-to-peer collaborative efforts

Ray Ozzie is the founder of Groove Networks Inc., a company developing the next generation of peer-to-peer computing technology. His four-year-old company is picking up where Napster's system of free file-sharing left off.

Groove dispenses with Napster's share-all-for-free model and replaces it with more complex technology that closely links about 25 computers at a time. Aimed initially at large corporations, Groove sidesteps the limitations of private computer networks -- replete with firewalls and centralized databases -- and allows people to directly connect their PCs, view the same documents, simultaneously see changes being made, and hold discussions using a PC-based voice connection.

Ozzie is a veteran programmer. In the early 1990s, he worked at Lotus Development Corp. and created Notes, software for group communications. In 1995, IBM bought Lotus for $3.5 billion and has since made Notes a core product of Lotus, with 50,000 corporate customers and 8 million users. BusinessWeek Boston Correspondent Geoffrey Smith talked to Ozzie about his newest product, Groove. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: What's the difference between Groove and Notes?

A:

The biggest fundamental difference is that Notes is always centrally planned by an information technology department. Groove is intended to be a platform that supports a broad range of interaction. The reason Groove came into being is that for all the work we put into Notes, when I walked the halls at our old company, 90% of the work we did together wasn't through Notes and [wasn't] through the Web. It was just walking the halls and talking to someone.

Groove lets small groups of people define their own set of tools they want to use for communicating and collaborating. An architecture firm might want to share AutoCad files. A law firm might want to share legal documents.

Q: Where are you focusing your marketing?

A:

Right now it's very awkward to have groups of people working together in different companies. There are firewalls between them. They might have extranet sites where other companies are publishing data from their systems, but otherwise everything is getting forced through e-mail. E-mail, phone, and fax are the only things that can hop over these boundries.

Part of why it took three years to get Groove out is because there's a lot of technology to securely tunnel through firewalls. It brings small groups of people together even though they're working across firewalls without any configuration parameters -- it just works. You invite somebody into your shared space, and magically they're in your space, and everything going over the shared space is encrypted, so it's protected.

Q: How do you view the competitive landscape?

A:

I view it in two dimensions. Are there competitive products? And what companies would view this as competitive? There isn't anything directly comparable. There are a zillion ways to share information on the Internet. But in terms of creating virtual private shared spaces -- working in a disconnected or connected manner, giving people the ability to [share applications] -- there isn't a directly competitive product.

We're probably a good two years away from seeing a viable competitor. Anybody who builds broad-based interactive communications software would be either an ally or a competitor. It's all the usual suspects in the mass-market software domain. Microsoft is either a potential strong ally or competitor or both. We don't know.

Q: Which industries will be early adopters of Groove?

A:

Services firms that deal a lot in knowledge. Financial-services firms, manufacturing, which deals with project-oriented things. Pharmaceuticals. Energy firms developing oil-drilling platforms.

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