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Groove jumps to Microsoft beat

The company on Monday will test a new version of its software that features an add-on to Windows Explorer that makes it easier for people to view and share documents.

Groove Networks plans to begin testing on Monday a new version of its software that aims to help mobile workers collaborate on projects and ties the company closer to Microsoft.

Groove version 3, which is expected to be finalized this summer, introduces enhancements to the user interface and overall performance, adding tools to make it easier for employees to share information with co-workers and business partners, the company said.

"We're finding a lot of pent-up demand for software that can work across firewalls and in bandwidth-constrained environments," said Andrew Mahon, director of strategic marketing at Beverly, Mass.-based Groove.

In addition, the company has built into its software an add-on to Microsoft's Windows Explorer, the operating system's file-browsing application, so that people can view and share documents and communicate using instant messaging. The company hopes that close integration with Windows will encourage more people to use its software.

The Groove software provides "workspaces" where people can keep track of numerous ongoing projects, such as the creation of documents that involve several people. Users can communicate with others through instant messaging. The Groove software uses a peer-to-peer design, which means that computers can communicate directly without having to pass through a central server.

"We're working in a very decentralized manner, and the technology has to follow that form," said Groove founder Ray Ozzie, who was the creator of Lotus Notes.

Groove was founded by Ozzie in October 1997. Three years later, the company launched the first version of its desktop software that enabled people to collaborate over the Internet.

The product's architecture, which relies on PCs to store data and on centralized servers, is designed to appeal to corporations. Version 3 aims to help businesses better collaborate with outside organizations.

Lloyd Merithew, director of logistics integration at Siemens Medical Systems, said his company bought version 2.5 of the Groove software to help its mobile technicians gather information when installing medical equipment at hospitals and better work with its business partners. Web-based applications did not fit their requirements because employees could not always get network access, he said.

"We built electronic forms to collect data, which used to be Excel, Word and faxes. Now it's all automated," he said. Groove "is such a huge improvement over e-mail and telephone tag."

The client portion of Groove version 3 will cost the same, at $69 per person. A Professional license will go up from $140 to $179, and a project management edition, called Team Direction, will cost $229.