Will SharePoint Gain Tighter Bonds With Groove?

SEATTLE – Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSOFT) plans to more closely link its Groove peer-to-peer collaboration client with its SharePoint centralized collaboration server, the company’s chief software architect (CSA) Ray Ozzie told leaders of its outside technical community on Thursday.

Ozzie, Bill Gates’ replacement as CSA, addressed 1,800 of the company’s “most valuable professionals” (MVP), half from other countries, gathered here for Microsoft’s 2008 MVP Global Summit.

Ozzie’s comments came in response to a question from the audience as to whether the Office Groove client will become the “future user interface” for Office SharePoint Server.

“I might ask whether SharePoint is the future UI of Groove,” Ozzie responded rhetorically.

Groove provides a peer-to-peer client for both online and offline collaboration. The technology came to Microsoft when the company bought out Ozzie’s startup, Groove Networks, in March 2005.

In contrast, SharePoint Server provides a centralized hub for collaboration and document management among Office users. In fact, it has become so popular, Microsoft officials have said, that it is its own $1 billion business. While, SharePoint files can be accessed from within the Groove client, however, it is not the main method of working with SharePoint Server. From the audience’s response, however, it was clear many SharePoint MVPs would like to see tighter integration between the two.

“It would be nice to have a Groove client on SharePoint,” Tobias Redelberger, an MVP for Microsoft Small Business Server from Germany, told InternetNews.com.

That, said Ozzie, is coming.

“They are very, very complimentary and we will see in [Office] 14 and beyond, increasing association with the things you can do in SharePoint and the things that you can do with Groove in the client, increasing levels of connections, both specific functions at the UI that are designed to work seamlessly with one another, [and] increasingly the semantics underneath being brought together,” Ozzie said. “So, yes, that is the strategy.”

Office 14 is reportedly due out next year – Office 2007 was codenamed Office 12, and there will be no Office 13, apparently for superstitious reasons.

MVPs, in Microsoft parlance, are leaders in the Microsoft technical community who donate a good share of their time to helping others involved in developing or deploying systems based on Microsoft products. For instance, many of them provide online help to users and developers who ask for help on the company’s technical forums.

Despite Ozzie’s statements, however, one analyst expressed skepticism as to Groove’s importance and, indeed, its future – asserting that Microsoft’s main reason for buying Groove was for Ozzie and his team, not for the Groove client. (Ozzie was also the creator of Lotus Notes, which was ultimately bought out by IBM (NYSE: IBM). Gates relinquished his role as CSA to Ozzie in June 2006.)

“[Groove] is one of those projects that, at any other company, would be killed … it’s not strategic,” Greg DiMichillie, lead analyst for application platforms at researcher Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com. “What Groove needs is the ability [for someone] to explain what it is in five minutes or less,” he added.

“I love you man!”

Ozzie was followed by CEO Steve Ballmer, who exuded the frenetic but controlled enthusiasm for his company and its products that he has come to be known for, as he strode back and forth shouting, “MVPs, baby, MVPs. I love those guys.”

Like Ozzie, Ballmer was careful not to disclose any important news during his keynote or in the Q&A session that followed, at one point saying to an MVP’s question, “I can’t answer that … there are press present.”

Describing the MVPs as an important source of early feedback, Ballmer put on his humble pie hat to admit that Windows Vista has not lived up to expectations to date, calling it “a work in progress.” His apparent candor drew a round of applause from the audience.

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Ballmer likewise drew raucous laughter when he said, “We’re clearly number 3 in search … obviously we’re trying to complete our [proposed] acquisition of Yahoo.”

However, he said, no matter how the Yahoo deal goes, the company is continuously working to improve its Live Search. One addition he promised for later this year is blog searching capabilities.

That may be all well and good, but improving Live Search will not be enough, said one of DiMichillie’s colleagues.

“Microsoft’s position in search is still untenable,” Matt Rosoff, consumer strategy analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) continues to turn in stellar quarters, while Microsoft’s search share remains in the single digits. On top of that, the bid to buy Yahoo undercuts the company’s message of confidence.

Indeed, Ballmer as much as proved that himself onstage.

When he asked the 1,800 MVPs how many use Live Search, only a handful put up their hands. The story was the same when he asked about Yahoo Search. However, when he asked about Google, nearly everyone in the room raised their hands.

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