Get into the groove
Think of Groove as a whiteboard, an instant messenger, a conferencing app, and a file manager all in one. With this tool, you can create an unlimited number of shared spaces in which coworkers can join you. What's a space? Essentially, it's a shared environment where you can coedit documents, play games such as chess and tic-tac-toe, share files, draw diagrams, and chat using a built-in messenger.
To install Groove, start by downloading a free version, which limits you to five shared spaces at a time. After the 90-day preview period, you must choose between the Standard package, which provides unlimited shared spaces and basic collaboration tools for $49, or the $99 Professional, which includes everything you'll find in the Standard plan, plus more advanced tools, such as the ability to import and export files using Microsoft Project. Most businesses will find the Standard package adequate, so unless you use Microsoft Project frequently, skip the Professional package.
Installation needs work
Unfortunately, our attempts at installing Groove weren't exactly groovy. In one case, where we were using a 300MHz machine running Windows 98, the installer simply wouldn't open properly. In another test, we received a number of "missing DLL" errors. However, to Groove's credit, its tech support was helpful, and in each case, reinstalling the app did the trick. Another ding: for now, Groove works only on Windows machines.
Support for the big three productivity tools
Once you're up and running with Groove, you can start simultaneous editing sessions of Microsoft Word documents and review PowerPoint presentations. And if you use Microsoft Outlook, try the Outlook Onramp wizard, which lets you turn an e-mail discussion into a Groove group simply by pressing a button that Groove slaps on Outlook's interface. In your project space, you can create shared documents in Groove's Text Pad tool or import preexisting documents or photos to shared directories. Unfortunately, you can only use Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Hopefully, Groove will include other applications in the next release.
Fun to use but sluggish
We like that Groove lets you create customized templates for collecting data from members of your team. You can make forms in the Form tool, for example, to collect information on job applicants, to take a survey, or to do anything else where standardized input is necessary--a great way to keep track of the fruits of a Groove session with your team. We had fun using Groove's tools (chess, anyone?) and didn't encounter problems sharing or coediting docs, but Groove was sometimes annoyingly sluggish when we switched among tools.
Groove doesn't come with a manual, but you can download one from the site. Even though the program is fairly intuitive, enterprise customers can set up onsite training for a fee; you'll need to get a quote from a Groove salesperson. With Groove offering so much for free, anyone who needs to collaborate on projects should give it a try.