In-Depth

It's Groove Baby!

Redmond's newest CTO hopes to make his mark on Microsoft's collaboration efforts, and perhaps much more.

Ray Ozzie, the father of Lotus Notes, has long been both praised and sought after by Bill Gates. In 2001, Microsoft invested $51 million in Groove Networks, Ozzie'sgroupware startup. This year Gates sealed the deal, buying the rest of Groove for a reported $120 million.

With Groove firmly in Microsoft's pocket, Ozzie reports to Gates as his new CTO, leading some observers to wonder if the 49-year-old Ozzie could ultimately replace Gates as Chief Software Architect. Others are curious just how long the independent and entrepreneurial Ozzie will stick around. After all, he only stayed with IBM for two years after it bought Lotus.

Redmond editors Doug Barney, Paul Desmond and Lafe Low sat down with Ozzie to talk about groupware, his plans for Groove and what he thinks it will be like to work for Gates.

Redmond: How does it feel to be working for Microsoft, a company that you competed with while at Lotus and then partnered with at Groove?

Ozzie: I don't know if I've thought about it in such 'working with the competitor' kind of terms. Even with Lotus for all those years, I identified myself with Iris (an independent company that developed Notes) much more than Lotus.

But Lotus was the primary (partner). That's where our income was because they were selling Lotus Notes. So yes, Microsoft was competing with Exchange, but we always had a good relationship with them.

It has been interesting in the first few weeks. I have been using Notes for my own mail for as long as there has been a Notes. You get habits. You use it a certain way. Now I'm an Outlook and Exchange user. The Exchange groups and Outlook groups already have a wealth of feedback (from me) from those experiences.

There are some aspects of Outlook that just kick Notes' butt and there are some aspects of Notes that kick Outlook/Exchange's butt. They have different heritages and different architectures. I think our experience with Notes will help make Outlook and Exchange a better product, because we can give them that kind of feedback. But it is interesting calling them "we."

Redmond: What are some of the high level issues you want to address with Exchange?

Ozzie: Microsoft has a broad variety of assets ranging from Hotmail to Smartphones to different forms of communication and collaboration, Groove, Live Meeting and things like that. I hope to bring a unifying influence from the perspective of both the user and the IT administrator who wants to use these things in conjunction with one another.

Redmond: How do you bring about that unification?

Ozzie: [Part of my role] is to help Groove get integrated. But my primary role is separate from any given product group. As part of Bill's staff, I am attempting to influence those different groups with a comprehensive vision strategy.

Redmond: What are some of the elements of that strategy?

Ozzie: I tend to work by addressing the constituencies. There might be a developer constituency, an IT constituency, and an end user constituency and, in the case of certain devices, an OEM constituency.

Then for each of those, develop a set of end-to-end scenarios that are relevant. How would an administrator like to manage a set of users using these devices? How would an end user who is using Outlook and a mobile phone and Hotmail account for when they're roaming? How would they like to use all of these things?

Then with those end-to-end story boards, paint the picture internally and externally and try to get product impact topped out from the [usage] scenario down to the product. As opposed to the classic way that people build, which is a capabilities based approach. You build a product, you see what it can do and you try to build a story around how they're good together.

Redmond: What does a Microsoft CTO do, and what area has Bill carved out for you?

Ozzie: I don't think there is specific pattern for what a CTO does. Craig Mundie has shaped his world largely around the intersection between technology and policies. He deals with governments worldwide on issues such as literacy, how Microsoft can be a good corporate citizen within those various nations, and health initiatives that are important to those countries. He is also very involved in Trustworthy Computing. It's a personal interest of his. He has a big group that's essentially working with different groups at Microsoft on how to build more secure trustworthy code.

David Vaskevitch is more of a platform person and has a much more pervasive internal influence on how various aspects of the platform are built. That's based on his interest.

Based on my background, a lot of (my work) will be in the communication and collaboration realm. I don't know if there is a pattern, aside from the fact that all of us are essentially staffed to Bill and aren't [in charge of] product groups.

Redmond: Has Bill given you specific goals?

Ozzie: We've worked up six month/12 month/18 month/infinite directions, but it's not that concrete yet. It's such a broad organization. Besides working on integrating Groove, the best thing I can really do right now is immersion—get to know people and get to understand the projects. You can't really be effective unless the organization knows you and you know the organization.

Redmond: How do you exert influence if you don't have product groups reporting directly to you?

Ozzie: It's influence as opposed to control. A lot of it is personal style. Both Notes and Groove were very technically complex products to build, very deep and broad architecturally. The reality is that developers and architects, when it comes down to it, really build what they want to build and will say no if what they're charged to build doesn't match their world view.

A lot of getting a complex product built is influence, trying to appeal to people, trying to communicate to them what the larger thing is so that they want to work with the people next to them to accomplish the larger goal. I am very optimistic in terms of that as a methodology.

It's a velvet glove instead of the stick. Sometimes you have to use the stick. I think you end up with a better outcome if people understand it and want to do it. Will it work? Time will tell, so let's talk again in a year or 18 months from now. Nothing is going to happen overnight by any means.

I'll declare victory if I can start to see over the next rev of a number of products that people are starting to do the right thing on their own initiative and if everyone buys into a high-level unified vision of how these things are going to work.

Redmond: You and Bill have known each other for quite a while. Can you characterize the relationship?

Ozzie: I think he would characterize it as a key ISV kind of relationship. We met in either 1981 or '82 when I was at Software Arts during the VisiCalc days. I was trying to port VisiCalc to both CPM-86 and MS-DOS at the same.

Redmond: That's a blast from the past.

Ray OzzieOzzie: Yeah. I was down to see Gordon Eubanks [at Digital Research]. At the same time I came up to see Bill and Steve (Ballmer) and their group.

Then in '84, early '85 when we started Iris, we made a decision to do it with a graphical user interface. We were all excited about the Mac and things like, Lisa, the Xerox Star, the Alto PC. We needed to place a bet on a graphical user interface technology for Notes. It was a key development decision as important as what language you choose.

We visited all the key players at the time. There were several tool kits where you could roll your own. One was Windows, Digital Research had one called GEM, and another was Vision form VisiCorp.

We visited all of them, and it was clear to us that Windows, although not as mature at the time, looked like it was architected right and that was the one we went with. The problem was there was no documentation and it was very buggy. So we came to an agreement by which they (Microsoft) would disclose to us the source code under NDA and we would help them to de-bug it by building the app on top of it. There were only a few ISVs at the time, Samna, Micrografx, and then there were a couple of internal (Microsoft) projects, Opus (code name for early Word for Windows), and Excel and things like that.

Redmond: Didn't Microsoft at one point express an interest in buying Notes from Lotus?

Ozzie: There was a point at which they were looking to build an e-mail engine, a routing engine, and they were in a build vs. buy mode. I think the project was called Spitfire. They were evaluating not the Notes Client, but the Notes back-end—the server, the database, replication, directory, all of those aspects. It was our technology versus some UK company that they ultimately ended up licensing the technology from.

Redmond: Often when Microsoft buys a company, it's not just for the product. They buy the people, especially the top people. How much of factor was that with Groove?

Ozzie: You'd have to ask Bill. I think it was [the people]. They wanted the people, but they were buying the business. They weren't buying the people per se. There's a product there, there are customers, there's a way that that Groove fits into the Microsoft collaboration strategy that works really well. It satisfied a number of things at the same time.

I think the biggest single thing that reflects that they want the people is that they let the company stay in Beverly [ Mass.]. I think they know the best way to retain people is to make sure [they] have an environment [in which] they are highly productive.

Redmond: Can you talk about early plans to integrate Groove more fully into Microsoft applications and operating systems?

Ozzie: I can't really right now—not just because I'm not supposed to, but because we are really in the early to middle of the planning phases.

Groove was in early planning of V4 on its own. Now with Microsoft, (we) backed off a little and asked, 'OK, we know what we would have done for our customers, but now what can we do better if we integrate with the real time communications stuff?' What would be the better user experience if it is integrated with Office? What would be the better user experience if we integrate with SharePoint from a content management perspective?

Right now we are creating an option space from which we will reduce it to see what we can deliver.

The three themes are: integrate user experiences so they can use the different modes seamlessly; unify the developer story so people can build Groove applications that integrate other aspects of Microsoft assets. For example, we are currently a good citizen with respect to managed code and things like that. There are additional things people do when developing as an Office developer, so integrating with some of that more is important.

Administration is the third tenet. If you've got multiple servers, Office or Windows servers and Groove, how can we make that administration experience more seamless from a policy deployment perspective?

So those are the top three. When I look at the product plans and the product planning process, I'm going back to when I said my approach was to look at the constituencies, who are they and are we succeeding? Give me one or two or three things within that constituency that we are going to nail so that someone can say, 'I get why this works, why you want to bring these things together.' It's not just an inwardly focused architectural bottom up thing. It's relevant to the user or developer or adminstrator.

Redmond: Is there a vision of what users will be able to do in a couple of years that they can't do today?

Ozzie: We have a palette of things. Unfortunately it's about ten times broader than we can do.

Groove is very project based and task focused. You create a Groove work space, if you are all working on a presentation together for a meeting, or you have an RFP and you are creating a response to that proposal, you are getting people to work on it.

While you are working together asynchronously, you might notice someone is online and you want to give them a call or interact with them. So having the gestures being seamless from the perspective of being in Groove, and thinking, 'Oh I want to show you this PowerPoint,' click the person, click the PowerPoint, click one button and suddenly it's appearing on their screen. Flip [that scenario]around. I might be on the phone with somebody and I might want to whip up a quick workspace, bring some content in and show it to them from starting in the real time perspective.

There's tremendous potential in the realm of content management in terms of organizing documents with a team and organization. Many companies are starting to treat it as though it's the next generation file share. Lots of people have document libraries in SharePoint. Then they want to share them with people outside the organization while they're working on a project. So integrating Groove from the perspective of speeding up work spaces and getting content from SharePoint into Groove so you can work on it and then seamlessly put it back —that I really want to make work very well.

Ozzie's Blog

Read more of what Ray Ozzie has to say at: http://www.ozzie.net/blog
There are scenarios involving mobile devices that I would like to make work more effectively. A lot of the awareness things we do in Groove can be complimented very well by a mobile device, both in projecting your awareness to people in the PC world and kind of assessing what the status of people are, what are they working on, is so and so awake yet?

I'm living this multi-time zoned life now (Ozzie splits his time between Redmond and Beverly, Mass.). It's very similar to things that could improve from a time and space perspective. If you look at the technology palette and you look at how people could be working together, there are a lot of connection points between technologies to solve either problems that people have or there are opportunities to make it better.

Redmond: Will Groove stay a stand alone product or does it get absorbed and become part of the operating system and the applications.

Ozzie: Groove has a user model that works really well. Everything I have seen leads me to believe that it's going to be a separate thing. Whether that thing is in certain situations bundled with other things or not are decisions that have yet to be made.

If you take Microsoft's past they do lots of interesting bundlings for licensing purposes and for specific targeted audiences. I would expect the same thing would happen, I just don't know exactly which ones yet.

Redmond: That bundling could allow Groove to become ubiquitous and thus easier to use and to exploit.

Ozzie: That's the promise.

Redmond: How does that ubiquity change the world of collaboration?

Ozzie: I think it has a lot of potential for two reasons. One is obvious – the network effects reason. Just (think about) Word documents. If I know you have Word, I am more likely to send you a .doc as opposed to .wp or .lwp.

Similarly with Groove. Right now we have pockets of success, but even though we make it available so that it's very easy to download, the likelihood of someone already having it, a random person on the ‘Net having it on their desktop is lower than it would be if it were part of a larger Microsoft offering.

So in terms of getting network effects going, I think that's great. The other big promise in terms of changing the nature of the way people work is that Groove itself was designed to be immediately useful to an end user without a ton of work by IT organizations. Even though we allow control by IT, when they decide they want to control it, users who know what they are trying to do can instantly just do it just like they can with Microsoft Office tools.

A lot of these people have never seen things like Notes and Exchange. Suddenly they will be exposed to a level of capability that they never had before so I am pretty excited about that.

Redmond: There are a lot of products that have rich collaboration functions, such as Notes and Exchange, but not many people use those features. What can the industry do to get people to exploit collaboration technology?

Ozzie: The value of the collaborative technology rises in proportion to how vertical the collaborative solution is.

Redmond: Is that Ozzie's Law?

Ozzie: (laughs) Yeah, it's Ozzie's law. It is actually a law attributable to Notes VARs. Notes was a platform technology. Sure, it does mail and directory and calendaring when you install it. But its business value would really rise in proportion to how much a VAR would come in and customize it to a legal app, or emergency responder app, or this app based on what you do.

Groove is the same way. If somebody downloads it and it's a blank page they might see some value or they might not.

But if somebody that they know and trust says, 'Oh I'm using it for this and that let me give you a template,' then suddenly it works for them because they can place it in what they do. Suddenly the value is much higher.

There are two things to cause things like Groove to succeed on a broader basis. Number one is the distribution of templates that are more vertical in nature. And as part of the bundled offerings, have them be very targeted as much as they can. And again VARs. People who are solution providers who really understand their domains much more deeply than any big horizontal software company could do.

Redmond: Have you found it's easier to get people to collaborate within a company as opposed to between companies?

Ozzie: In the past, I'd say the answer is yes. But the nature of business is changing. A lot of the formerly internal processes are extending themselves outward. It's an odd situation. The pain of communicating with people on the outside is so great that there is a greater propensity for people to try things to solve (that) problem, whereas on the inside they might have corporate standards.

What we've seen at Groove is it's actually easier in some instances to get somebody to recognize what Groove is useful for when they have the need to do something with somebody on the outside.

Now, that said, as part of Microsoft we will now be part of broader collaboration platform so when it goes into an organization it might be part of all of the other things that are installed.

Redmond: Is there a cultural shift that companies have to make to trust partners and trust competitors and share information?

Ozzie: If you want people to work more effectively together, you should first ask, 'What's the process I'm trying to change?' not 'What technology should I introduce?' Think first about how you want people to organize, then what technology is best to bring them together.

Earlier in the Notes era we saw many failed installations because people thought that this technology was some panacea or groupware means that people will interoperate better.

Ozzie on Redmond
—the Magazine

"So how did Redmond magazine end up in Boston? That's what I want to know. [Looking at the cover] It's a good name. In the old days of Groove, we had a skin for the product that looked just like Microsoft products, and it was called Microsoft something. They forced us to change [the name] to Redmond."
In some organizations, they have a culture around information hoarding. I don't care if you have blogs or wickies or Notes or SharePoint, if somebody's career is based on how much they have the knowledge and everybody comes to them, then technology is not going solve their problem. On the other hand, if there is a desire to extend a system out to partners, a supply chain system or something like, and you have a concept of how you want to do it, the technology can be great to just put in there and be an accelerant.

Redmond: So Navision and Great Plains groups might be very interested in Groove tools?

Ozzie: It could very well be.

Redmond: Is it too late to do anything with Longhorn, or do you already have plans to do something with Longhorn?

Ozzie: We have conversations in terms of what features should be enabled in Groove as a part of Longhorn, but it's too early to lock down on what those would be.

Redmond: Are there thoughts of Groove exploiting Exchange more fully?

Ozzie: There are ways that we've talked about where Groove can be an effective bridge in certain instances where Exchange is the in-house system, and you are trying to incorporate people outside. Whether that's an Outlook relationship, an Exchange relationship, what time frame it should be in, all of those things are open right now. But there are a lot of people who have a lot of good ideas.

Redmond: Are there thoughts of expanding platform support where you can reach more end users?

Ozzie: Only from a distribution perspective.

Redmond: I was thinking in terms of Web services and browser technology to help to make it more available on client side.

Ozzie: We are Web services right now. Web services is the way you get access to all data from the outside in and out of Groove. From a Web browser perspective, we are not going in that direction with Groove. SharePoint is the essentially the reach way—if you want to get something with a browser interface and get information very broadly, SharePoint is the offering.

In terms of Groove, we are really concentrating on making the rich experience as effective (possible), particularly in a mobile context. (We want to) make it possible to get data to other systems that are more Web-based, but that's not a core competency of Groove.

Redmond: We've been looking at Microsoft Office and it seems that the competitors are saying it already has too many features. If it's a features war, OpenOffice or SunOffice win because they are a lot cheaper. Microsoft seems to think that if it keeps pushing the envelope in terms of collaboration, then Office will continue to improve. Do you agree and how can Groove be a part of that?

Ozzie: There are features there that people could be exploiting if they knew they were there.

I also agree with the fact that there are fundamental things that can be done in the realm of how the Office suite is put together. The word processor is an automated type writer, the spread sheet is automated spread sheet, PowerPoint is automated foils. Today you don't create content without doing something with it with other people, whether it's presenting it to other people or working on it with other people.

It's far more common today that you're looking at things on the screen rather than putting it on paper. If you stand back and ask how would I refactor these tools if I knew that I was trying to do so in a collaborative environment, it might look quite a bit different. I personally think there's quite a bit of opportunity if people are willing to open their eyes to the fact that there might be a better way or more productive way of doing things. I don't know what the future holds but I do believe there is more than just happy talk in terms of where this thing could go.

Redmond: How do you get people to open their eyes?

Ozzie: It's story telling. Somebody's got to use it, have a really good experience with it, and tell somebody else. It's not going to be a company jamming some new vision on people.

Microsoft would have to take some risks in developing a product with a new or modified paradigm. But it will succeed—not because it's something that Microsoft does—but because some people would start using it and notice the substantive difference and start telling other people about or write some stories about it.

I think in today's society we are flooded by technology. We've got a million ways of doing everything and vendors are jamming things on users that they don't find relevant.

When I look at Groove and the stories coming back, it's on a much smaller scale than Microsoft in the past, but the passion with which people come back and say "I didn't know you could do that. I had no idea I could just think about bringing people together and suddenly be working with them an hour later." I could tell you stories on the humanitarian side or government side that are vivid in terms of how resources were brought to people to help them in a time frame that they wouldn't have been helped before because they were able to spontaneously get together.

That gives me hope that we are not just pushing technology, that there are better ways of doing things, not just trading apples for oranges.

Redmond: You mentioned that you had a lot of success where the collaborative applications were more vertically oriented. Are there specific things you are planning to do with channel to help foster that?

Ozzie: I believe Notes would have been ultimately a much less valuable technology if the channel had not picked it up and done what they wanted to do with it, and found a way to make money for themselves while solving problems for partners.

As Groove Networks, we could never get any substantive traction with the channel. In today's times, people have little money to invest in new speculative technologies, and Groove was a speculative technology by a small startup with an unknown future. One of the great positive things that Microsoft does in the Groove realm is add tremendous credibility, longevity and sustainability. Now finally we will be able to give partners a message. Figure out a way to leverage it for your own selfish benefit because the moment you do that everyone will benefit.

Redmond: How important is customization?

Ozzie: If you go to the Groove Web site, there are the beginnings of sets of what we call rapid solutions that you just click and download. It's a starter template, it's semi-vertical, and it's fairly nascent. That will not be mature until partners get involved and really start enhancing.

Redmond: You talked about going back to the drawing board with Groove 4.0. Are there features you had planned that will still be in there?

Ozzie: 4.0 should be the beginning of what 4s and 5s and 6s are, which is taking it deeper, taking it broader, enabling partners more. You'll see largely more of the same. The message around 3.1 is going to the message for 4.0, but you will see better integration.

Redmond: What would you tell IT pros that haven't tried Groove yet?

Ozzie: Download it, try it, buy it, tell people about it. Find a task, be very selfish. One of our most successful verticals to date is selling to IT as a business unit. They have IT projects that they want to manage. The first Groove customer application was for a customer with two companies that were merging different mail systems. The project was to use Groove to coordinate all the people in switching from one mail system to another worldwide.

Find a project that is relevant to you. Don't think about it as some dramatic new infrastructure that is going to rock your world. Just think about it very selfishly from a project you are trying to get done with people that are spread out, either by time or place. Download it, get it to the people, have small expectations, and it just kicks butt. And then think how else in the organization it can be used.

Redmond: What would you like your legacy at Microsoft to be?

Ozzie: Hey, I've just begun! A net value-add. I think the field experience that I have from Notes and Groove can add value to Microsoft. Aspects of the successes I've seen and the failures can help the approach to how one builds systems with complex interdependencies, yet make things appear seamless to the user. That's a valuable asset that can be brought to bear on Microsoft because it has unprecedented numbers of initiatives (that can be brought together to make) the user and the administrator progressively better. I'd be pretty happy if I could make a difference in this realm.

People are trying manage projects in many organizations, not just in geographically dispersed ways within the organization, but involving partners and sometimes people in India, people in China. The asynchronous nature of it makes it extremely easy to manage projects that involve people who are dispersed.

If you had to think about what Groove's really about, the fundamental premise is that the boundaries between us are becoming less and less relevant. The walls are coming down, that's between us as individuals and teams, between organizations, between nations, and between big companies.

The reason Groove has achieved some level of success in D.C. is because post 9-11, there's a mandate that organizations have to work with one another. These are organizations with big powerful IT groups – none of whom can dictate what the other uses. Something like Groove lets them build these bridges between one another and make them very effective at solving ‘a' problem. They've got a set of analysts or law enforcement officials that need to respond to this emergency, get everyone together in Groove, do it, and then it's over. That is the core essence of where Groove is, but I ultimately believe where all IT systems have to start to behave. That's the nature of business and the nature of work these days.

Redmond: Who came up with the name Groove?

Ozzie: I did. The collaborative systems of the past, the way you managed them is to orchestrate. You have someone at the top, and a second layer of management, and you orchestrate how to get something done. The nature of how work really does get done is kind of an overlay on that, which is people just working together. They assemble, they do something and they leave.

Things I was thinking of were like (musicians) jamming, you are in the groove. That nature of dynamic group formation and disassembly is what I was trying to connote with the name.

Redmond: Are you a musician? Was that part of the thinking in naming the company Groove?

Ozzie: My brother (Jack Ozzie works for Groove and was a co-founder), who is next door, went to Berkelee (School of Music).

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