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Groove remodels its 'virtual office'

Among other perks, Groove's collaboration software now lets workers send alerts whenever a shared document or "workspace" changes.

Groove Networks next week is expected to deliver the third major version of its collaborative software, an update designed to help people share information when they are on the move or connected to a corporate network.

In tandem with the release, Groove has changed the name of its product to "Groove Virtual Office," which the company says reflects how the product is being used by spread-out teams of workers. The company also boosted the price of the two higher-end versions of the product by about 20 percent.

When the company was founded in 1997 by Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie, its peer-to-peer desktop software was billed primarily as a stand-alone collaboration application targeted at businesses. Over the past year, however, Groove has found that the software has been used more as a way to extend existing systems with collaborative and mobile features.

"General-purpose collaboration is a very tough sell?it's such a competitive market, it's almost a commodity," said Andrew Mahon, director of strategic marketing at Groove.

"When we proposed using Groove as a means of sharing business functions in 30 or 120 days, that tended to catch the ear of CIOs," he said, referring to the time it takes to install the software and get going with it.

Information company Reuters, for example, is using Groove's software with about 100 employees--with plans to increase that to 1,000 people--as a way to boost productivity, said Mandeep Singh, a principal with Reuters' strategy innovation group. The Groove software allows workers to get updates of collaborative projects when they are traveling, without having to use a virtual private network, he said.

"Mainly we saw it as an innovative application that could streamline how people work. We have too much dependency on e-mail for managing projects," Singh said. "Given that people at Reuters travel a lot and work with spread-out teams, (Microsoft's portal software) SharePoint gets out of of date."

Corporations represent about 40 percent of Groove's clients. Government agencies represent another 40 percent, and small businesses 20 percent.

Groove Virtual Office 3.0 introduces enhancements to tie the desktop software closer to Microsoft's Windows utilities, including Windows Explorer, and adds tools to ease application development. The update includes a forms-building application and ships with 10 templates for common tasks, such as tracking customers, which people can use or modify.

The new version also includes a system for setting up alerts, allowing a person to send an alert when a document or collaborative "workspace" has changed, and it doesn't consume as much of a PC's resources.

The cost of the entry-level File Sharing Edition of Groove remains $69 per person. The price of the Virtual Office Professional Edition has gone up about 20 percent, to $179 per person. A project management version also went up 20 percent in price to $229 per person.