Two days after its real-time collaboration and communication day, Microsoft announced that it is acquiring Groove Networks (there's also a Q&A available). I have equivocated over whether this would happen: when Microsoft initially invested in Groove, I felt it was a definite, but over the last year I thought that all hope was lost ... for two reasons. Firstly, Groove Virtual Office was too much of a direct competitor to Windows SharePoint Services. Whereas Microsoft used to position Groove Virtual Office as its solution for offline access, it hasn't been doing that in customer accounts for about the last year (with iOra being the strategic enabler instead). Secondly, Groove has failed to garner much buzz in the marketplace, aside from fairly bounded times around new product releases.
At the teleconference announcing the acquisition, the following points were made:
- (Jeff Raikes) has a high degree of excitement about the shared vision for collaboration, both within and across organizational boundaries. Ray will become one of Microsoft's three CTOs, and will work with Bill. Customers were stressing that offline access to information worker content was important.
- (Bill Gates) this acquisition is good for Microsoft, and it will help information workers. Ray has made a huge contribution to the industry. Two pieces of Groove are particularly interesting: its peer-to-peer capabilities, and its authentication approach.
- (Ray Ozzie) a very exciting day for the team, and for Ray personally. While Groove was based on the premise that the nature of business was changing due to decentralization, server-based systems remain important. Collaboration requires both approaches.
- During the question and answer session, little was revealed about how the products from both companies will be merged.
Here's my first take:
- This was a do-or-die deal for Groove, and Microsoft was a natural acquirer given how much effort Groove has put into integration with Windows and SharePoint. IBM wouldn't buy them, and they were faced with declining market influence. The company just wasn't big enough to survive as an independent player, and was struggling to get heard among key buyers.
- Jeff said, and the press release repeats it, that this gives Microsoft a trifecta of offerings: real-time collaboration solutions (Live Meeting, Live Communications Server), server-based collaboration solutions (Portal Server, SharePoint Services), and peer-to-peer collaboration solutions. This absolutely the wrong way to think about it. Microsoft's line needs to be that they offer collaborative workspaces that integrate real-time capabilities for shared work, with aggregation and cross-site search via a portal. At this goes to say that I think the stark difference today between SharePoint and Groove will disappear in 12-18 months.
- iOra is dead. It has just lost a key strategic reference point.
- The presence and availability technology in the Groove Virtual Office product will be stripped out, and replaced with Live Communications Server-based capabilities.
- My hunch is that this has come about due to the continued slippage in ship date for Longhorn. If Longhorn was more on track from a time delivery perspective, this would not have happened.
- We can expect some major changes in Windows SharePoint Services. Ray will want to put his stamp there, because the product suffers from some major weaknesses, a few of which will be addressed by greater integration between Groove and SharePoint.
- In terms of timing, it would have been cool have announced this at the collaboration and communication day two days ago.
- In time, customers will benefit from this. Ray needs 18-24 months, but his strategic viewpoint and clout in the collaboration space will make a big difference for Microsoft.
- Nothing was said about Groove's range of server-based offerings, so here's my pick. The functions from tts Enterprise Management Server (for managing Groove deployments) will be merged into Microsoft SMS. Its Enterprise Data Bridge will be disassembled, with functions added into BizTalk Server. Its Enterprise Integration Server will have some functions but into Microsoft SMS, and others into BizTalk, while its Enterprise Relay Server (for within the firewall control over peer-to-peer communication) will be merged into Live Communications Server.
What Do You Think?
Is this a good thing for Microsoft? What points of integration make sense between the Groove technology and Microsoft's multitude of things? Please drop me a line by email, or leave a comment below.
UPDATE (March 12): Strategic Viewpoint Report Available
Shared Spaces released an independent Strategic Viewpoint report assessing Microsoft's acquisition of Groove Networks. It is a 7-page report, available for immediate purchase.