Secure file-sharing across networks -- and it's free

In this edition of Strom's Security Tool Shed, David Strom evaluates Groove Networks 1.0.

Category: Collaboration software
Name of tool: Groove Networks 1.0
Company name: Groove Networks, Inc.
Price: free
URL: www.groove.net
Windows platforms supported: 95, 98, NT (SP 3 or better), 2000, Me
Quick description: A terrific way for workgroups to collaborate, with built-in security

Strom-meter:
**** = Very cool, very useful

Key features:

Pros: Peer to peer file sharing and discussions
Easy to setup and use

Cons:
Works best on continuous Internet connections
Lacking address book imports
Not compatible with AOL Instant Messenger or other IM applications

Description:

Collaboration among remote workers usually means emailing or faxing documents back and forth. Apart from the pain of trying to send large attachments, there is another reason why this isn't a good idea: the lack of security inherent in most Internet-based email and faxes.

There is a solution to this problem from a new company called Groove Networks. And it is absolutely free of charge. The software, which presently only works on Windows, does for collaboration what Word did for documents. IT delivers a new set of services and defines a new era of computing.

Groove has lots of tools that come ready-to-use as part of its overall application. There is a document sharing tool, a discussion/chat tool, a tool to send instant messages (using its own system, not compatible with AOL IM or any other IM system), and others including games such as chess and tic-tac-toe. The idea here is that you make use of whatever tools you need to collaborate with others.

And the best part about Groove is that security is built in. Documents are sent over the wire encrypted. You need do nothing else to keep your private information private. No settings to remember (or mangle); no switches to setup. It just works. You can share your groove "spaces" (as they are called) with whomever you wish, and invite others to join you or uninvite them as your needs change.

Think of this software as a combination of the best things from Notes and Napster. The Notes heritage is an obvious comparison, since Ray Ozzie is at the heart of both products. The Napster comparison is apt because Groove operates as a peer-to-peer service, meaning that there is no central Groove server for you to setup. However, the company does maintain a central Groove directory of users, in which you can opt to include as much or as little information as you'd like.

Groove can replace a mixed bag of Internet tools. For example, I used to use My Yahoo for keeping track of my personal calendar and contacts, MyDocsOnline.com as a shared storage space for my critical documents, and AOL Instant Messenger (IM) to communicate quickly with friends and colleagues. Groove combines all three of these services into a single, coherent system.

One of the best things I liked about Groove was the ability to share information on my home and work machines. If you have ever left a copy of a file that you labored on for hours on your home machine, you'll understand the value of this. If your home PC is connected to the Internet via a broadband connection, then you can leave your documents in the shared file area of Groove and pick them up when you get to your work PC. There is nothing to upload or download, it all just works without any action on your part.

Speaking of continuous Internet connections, this is one weakness of Groove. While the product does work over a dial-up connection, you'll probably want to make the best use of it over higher-speed lines like DSL, cable modems, or T-1s. There is a fair amount of information to be transferred, and the slower connections will make it more frustrating to use. You'll also want at least a 233 MHz Pentium with 64 MB of RAM -- and more RAM is better as Groove is particularly memory-hungry.

All is not perfect: aside from a lack of compatibility with AOL IM, you can't import an existing address book into the Groove address book, although this feature is planned for the future.

But overall, Groove represents a great first step forward, towards a useful collaboration tool for distributed workgroups. And its value will increase as more people make use of it within a corporation.

Strom-meter key:
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.

Bio: David Strom is president of his own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant, and corporate IT manager. Since 1995 he has written a weekly series of essays on web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him email at david@strom.com.


This was first published in January 2001

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