Home Office: Get More Work Out of Your Day
I bet you use e-mail all day long to swap files and information with clients and coworkers. How'd you ever live without it? But think of the time you waste waiting for people to reply or to send the file you need, like, right now. I spend way less time on the e-mail equivalent of hold since I started using a supersmart real-time collaboration tool.
I knew there had to be a better way to work with people remotely while I was writing my book, PC Annoyances. Coordinating the ten-person team was a logistical nightmare. Over four months we fired exactly 1 billion e-mail messages to and fro, chatted by phone, and shared tons of documents, PDF files, and images. We ended up with more than 70 different Word docs for the project, several of them very similar, or even exact duplicates. If only I knew then what I know now about Groove.
Deep in a Groove
The first time I saw Groove Networks' collaboration program was in 2001 at a user-group meeting--and believe me, I was underwhelmed. The tool was kludgy, awkward to use, and crash-prone. Fortunately, it has since become the Groove Virtual Office, a mature, robust, and indispensable workgroup product that far exceeds expectations. Download the trial version.
Groove now has all the sharing tools I need, including file swapping, instant messaging, e-mail, and shared calendars. But what seals the deal for me is the program's ability to let two or more people work on a Word document at the same time. Sure, I can duplicate these functions with individual products, but Groove gives me all of them in one secure package (it's closed to outsiders automatically). And then there's Groove's discussions feature, its forms tool for customizing documents, its project and meeting management, and its outlining tool.
Another thing in Groove's favor is ease of use: A bunch of us were up and running with the tool in minutes. And after just a day using Groove, I was having a simultaneous IM and voice chat with a buddy in Japan. The program worked like a charm right out of the chute, as we flung photos, documents, and files back and forth. Take it from me, Groove rocks.
Quick tip: No matter what collaborative tool you use, keep everyone's rights to a bare minimum at first, say, to read only. That way no one can accidentally delete all those cherished, newly edited files.
Groove's pricing is reasonable. You can buy one copy for $70 (that's not a yearly fee, either) and use it on up to five of your own PCs (your pals have to buy their own copies). Other workgroup products, such as Intranets.com ($60 per month for five users) and South River Technologies' GroupDrive.com ($800 for ten users), require buying a set number of licenses. (Both services also have trial versions.)
Groove does have two disadvantages, although neither of them will stop me from using the product. First, it isn't Web-based, so you have to install it on all your PCs. I can live with that; if you can't, try PopG, a $30-per-month service that runs a Groove account from a browser. The second problem may be tougher: There's no Mac version of Groove (though I generally try to avoid Mac users, often and early).
Dial-up Groove users sharing large files should change the download settings to manual, or limit downloads to files under 1MB or so. Open the Groove workspace, select Files, right-click the root folder, choose Properties, and select the Downloads tab.
If you prefer something free, try Five Across's Web-based InterComm service, which lets you share files, work together on documents, forward e-mail notices, and chat. It's not as feature-laden as Groove, and it allows only one-to-one conversations in chat rather than Groove's one-to-many, but hey, it's a freebie.
Now if I could only get Groove to write a few book chapters, I'd be all set.