Friday, March 11, 2005

Groove Musings

I suppose I should comment on Microsoft's acquisition of Groove Networks and Ray Ozzie's ascension to the post of Chief Technical Officer. Certainly there was a little buzz in the corridors of Lotus yesterday (virtual corridors of email, discussion forums and Sametime chats for me since I was working from home). I'm sure there'll be "official" responses in due course but some ground-level musings are in order.

First there was a surprise factor: Microsoft hasn't made significant acquistions of late (or perhaps they have but nothing significant has manifested itself recently). Their previous investment in Groove notwithstanding, an acquisition goes far beyond hedging once's bets.

Second was the overwhelming human interest angle and that sense of wonderment that occurs when dramatic things happen to people you know or are vaguely related to. "Bought? Bought!" For me it was remembering the period a few years ago when friends and acquaintances were interviewing at Groove - back when it was a startup in stealth mode, and even the vague soundings-out about any potential interest on my part. Perhaps they would now be Microsoft employees.

Sidenote: hearing reports that the interviewers at Groove wouldn't even discuss the product that they were developing put paid to any incipient wisps of enthusiasm from me. Engineers, especially curious technologists like me, like to discuss platforms, designs and architecture. I'd be beyond handicapped without that kind of stimulation in an interview. Also, if I remember correctly, at the time I was on the most interesting project I'd worked on in my professional life. IBM was quite good at weathering those dot-com seductions with lots of challenging technology.

Third is a strategic angle. There's a sense of cousinry in the offerings that Groove, Microsoft and the Lotus/IBM portfolio straddle. Vague concepts like productivity, collaboration, 'groupware', shared spaces, presence, messaging, replication and offline-use abound, whether in marketing theory or in product practice. These are ideas that Lotus folks live, breathe and hopefully develop in software. Consequently there's a little curiousity as to how things will pan out in the future. The C.T.O. position seems somehow significant in this respect.

Lastly, and most important to me, is the technology angle. In the speculative marketplace of ideas that the technology world is, a track record is about the greatest currency there is. Ozzie can mint his own currency on Lotus Notes alone. Also he, along perhaps with Joel Spolksy and Tim Bray's Technology Predictor Success Matrix, has written definitive treatments about software platforms and ecosystems and how to husband them. I tend to evaluate all the software platforms and frameworks I encounter or create with these words in mind. It would serve everyone well to read (or re-read) Ozzie every now and then. How does your technology or framework-du-jour stack up in this light? And if it doesn't, what are your plans for getting it there, and how long will it take? I suspect that such questions will be asked a lot in Redmond in coming months. In grasping at answers, I have only one clear hint: this web thing begs to be internalized and, more to the point, duly leveraged.

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