Ray Ozzie is a god to programmers, thanks to the creation of Lotus Notes.
Its big-picture collaborative architecture caught the imagination of techies in search of virtual meeting places. And soon, it became a standard for corporate e-mail, even though some rank-and-file users loathed it.
Ozzie’s now seven years into his latest venture, Groove Networks, which uses peer-to-peer technology to let users easily set up and manage ad hoc shared workspaces. Groove workspaces are self-synchronizing and support on and offline use. Information in a workspace is encrypted both over the wire and on users’ hard drives.
Groove was founded before P2P became a dirty word. At the time, Ozzie appeared at conferences hyping Groove alongside executives from Gnutella and AIMster.
Fast forward. After proving itself in the battlefields of Iraq, where humanitarian aid workers loaded the unauthorized application on mobile devices to report from the field, Beverly, Mass.-based Groove has found an unlikely niche: government work. Groove is a core component of the Homeland Security Information Network, which will eventually let federal, state and local agencies and emergency operations centers share intelligence and tactical information.
Q: Is Groove Notes done right?
The contrast mostly is that Notes, besides being e-mail, was a collaborative infrastructure for within the firewall in global enterprises. It never served outside contractors. Groove was fundamentally born as an Internet application into a world of cooperating companies.
Q: It seems like few organizations took advantage of the collaboration features in Notes.
Some enterprises, particularly the ones that started early, used both e-mail and collaboration. And some have even stopped using e-mail but retained the collaboration functions; some use just the e-mail. The primary value people got and
continue to get is rapid application development. You could build applications very quickly to deploy to multiple people within the organization. Notes might have frustrated people, but it solved the issue of replication very definitely.
Q: How does empowering the edge jell with the need for corporations to control what their users do and comply with government reporting regulations?
When we designed Groove, because of my experience with Notes, we knew in advance the requirements that needed to be in the software to have it be successful. For example, providing value to both IT and the line of business. IT needs to be able to manage it and make sure it meets all rules and regulations for compliance, etc. And, from the business unit perspective,
it needed to integrate with other enterprise applications. On other hand, because it’s collaboration software, we needed
to focus on the individual and how the individual would use it — what the
motivators or de-motivators would be — so they would embrace it.
It’s not for the radical fringe. From the enterprise perspective, you have to solve both central and edge problems. Grove is catching on in the enterprise because of problems relating to secure mobility. Businesses don’t have good ways of deploying certain enterprise applications out to the users, so it’s being used as a secure mobile front end.
Q: How is the Linux port going?
We’ve put it on hold. We had it demo’ed at our launch event in late 2000, but we put it on ice. There’s not the customer demand on this point in time.
Q: Groove is a Windows-specific application, and Windows still has huge security issues.
We’re a trust layer on top of Windows. The problem Microsoft has is that it’s a legacy code base that’s huge and trying to solve so many problems. I fundamentally believe that security comes from simplicity. You can’t have a complex system and have it become secure. Having a secure layer on top of Windows is the right way to deal with interpersonal communications security.
Q: One of the biggest fears of IT is that unauthorized applications will deliver viruses, spyware and Trojans, something the music P2P apps are infamous for. What prevents this in Groove?
Groove uses a peer-based person-to-person trust model that works because the product’s designed to support small group interactions, generally with people that we recognize.
Groove’s security architecture is a great model for how many communication tools including groove should be addressing peer trust. If we need to communicate, you send me an e-mail. I can press a button saying I trust this individual, and you get in the response the opportunity
to trust me. From that moment, everything we send is automatically authenticated and encrypted.
Q: Do you think Groove has been hurt by the recording industry’s message that P2P equals piracy?
In 2001, we probably were associated with that, but at this point it’s not a factor at all. We have so many case studies of how people are actually using Groove and getting value out of it.
Q: Groove has been criticized for not doing anything to help combat copyright holders’ and legislators’ campaigns against P2P technology. Are you hoping to stay off the radar?
I hadn’t heard that criticism. I’d be happy to stand up and say what I think. We’ve done lobbying in DC and, when we found bad legislation, we met with staffers and tried to make sure they would clarify the difference between the technology and the use of the technology, that not all P2P architecture are bad. You have to go more at the intent of the usage. I don’t feel defensive and we have done a lot.