November 3, 2010

How I met Ray Ozzie, part 2

Follow this link for the first part

The visit

We were located at the time in a very industrial part of town in Ottawa. On the big day I was very excited and febrile, the whole team was, and we were trying to play Joe Kewl about it. Who were we kidding, we were about to meet the guy who had put groupware on the map, ahead of every one else on the planet. I couldn’t wait to finally meet them.

They sure didn’t disappoint us. They had flown in the night before, so we didn’t have to wait long.  They pulled in the parking lot in what I remember to be a big Cadillac, but it’s vague, this souvenir could also be about making this story better, my memory does that to me sometimes! So here they were, the four guys larger than life, the team Ray Ozzie had put together for his hyper secretive project, in OUR parking lot. Picture this, all the company at that exact time had run to the windows, and were all looking down in the parking lot to make sure those guys were humans. We were all like kids looking through the window of a toy store.

So they come up, we did our best to act surprised, since they were a little early.  We showed them our one and only board room. Ray then started on talking about how he was worried that he had crossed the border with software that he wasn’t sure it was ok to export. I remember thinking – just what they are we going to see today? We offered them access to our network, pfff – what was I thinking?  They would not have touched it even if we had paid them to use it, they didn’t trust our network to be secure, so they stuck to their cellular wireless cards. You have to remember that back in the days those type of cards were expensive and very slow and very rare, wireless hadn’t taken off yet and wouldn’t for a few years. The seriousness in keeping this revolutionary idea under wrap was unheard of for me.

I can tell you that when the demo started, I didn’t know what to expect, and I remember thinking, OMG this is brilliant! The software was all about collaboration, so Ray hadn’t left that problem space just yet. Groove Networks was all about collaboration from the desktop standpoint as opposed to the server collaboration of Lotus Notes and typical web collaboration environments. We were treated to the first ever use of peer-to-peer  in the context of office productivity. The software was called groove, and you could create collaboration space, with chat, voice, live document editing, where you could invite anybody to your workspace, where ever they were. This concept alone, inviting people to collaborate on stuff with you across corporate boundaries was revolution back then. Why? well firewall was a big deal back then, everyone thought that if you were on one side of the firewall, and the other party was on the other side, their was nothing one could do about accessing resources from each other aside from standard http. Groove changed all that, it broke that big barrier. Ray went on to explain that he had gotten the idea one day looking at his son playing quake or wolfenstein 3d, I can’t remember,  with friends over the web.

He summed up the product this way, “if the kids can play  games over the web with friends,  it’s all about collaboration, why is it that corporations can't do work in the same way”. That day I remember thinking ‘I saw the future!’. It also hit hard home that innovation comes from everywhere, and sometimes it’s the same idea in a new space and voilĂ !

The great thing about the job I do is wherever I look I work with really talented people: our crew, our clients, our partners. We all bring something to the table. Working together we put all those bits and pieces of creativity, knowledge, know-how together and bada bing bada boom , tada!, voilĂ , the result is always greater than the sum of its parts.

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