While it may not be quite as functional as Sharepoint, the Microsoft Live Groups service is looking better and better especially with the recent launch of the Office 2010 Web Apps on Tuesday. Granted, I still think it’s a long way off before I’d call it a Google Docs / Apps killer however I think the platform is well on it’s way to becoming more than just a party planning tool.
Before we talk about what the Windows Live Groups is lacking, let’s first take a look at what it already has going for it.
Office Online Groups Are Simple To Create And Use
All you need to use Live groups is a Windows Live account. Once you have that you can visit http://groups.live.com/create/ and create one. If you take a look at the screenshot below you’ll see the one and only creation screen for a group. Pick a name, pick a URL, invite people, Click the create button… done.
All the good names are going fast so act now to reserve your GROUP now now.
If you’d rather join someone else’s group, you can do so by requesting an invite. However by default the privacy settings of groups prevents people from requesting invites, so you’ll have to know the group owner or co-owner and personally ask them for an invite.
Once you have an invitation, you’ll see a notification and a link to view it.
All you have to do to join the group from this point is Click Join on the invitation page.
Current Live Group Features
2. Group Chat
Using Live Messenger group members can chat with each other on a large scale. Up to 40 members can all instant message in one shared window. The only downside to this is, you have to install Live Messenger… yeah, group chat should have been included as a built-in web app. Hopefully Microsoft will get the ball rolling on this in the future, but until then you’ll have to live with the high-school reminiscent messenger window.
3. Collaborative Group Calendar
Probably the grooviest part of Live Groups is the group calendar. If used in combination with Outlook and the Outlook Hotmail Connector you can use it as a make-shift exchange server for your organization.
Again they’ve kept it simple, all you have to do to make a calendar is Click the Add calendar button.
The Calendar group calendar has all of the same features of the normal Live calendar. The difference is that it is shared between everyone in the group. Because the calendar has so many features we won’t talk about all of them in this article but I’ll highlight the groovy ones.
- Easily Add Events – An add overlay appears over each date that lets you add items within an in-window pop-up.
- To Do List and Agenda List – The agenda view is a list of all events and what times they are going down from any range of dates. The To Do list is a separate feature that let’s you assign tasks and due dates.
- Combine Calendars Without Sharing – On the Windows Live site you can display your personal own events on the group calendar so that they are only visible to you. This lets you easily see schedule conflicts.
- Simulate an exchange server with the Outlook Hotmail connector tool. Works with personal and group calendars.
4. Instant Document Sharing And Creation
Depending on the group permissions, everyone in the group will be able to view and edit group documents collaboratively. Or in other words, any documents created from the group document panel are instantly community property.
Additionally, you can add documents to the group pool from your own Skydrive, or you can even add from your computer using an easy Drag and drop interface. Note that individual files are limited to the normal SkyDrive limitation of 50 MB per file and from what we can tell the file is stored using the space from the uploader’s 25GB SkyDrive limit.
That just about covers groups for now. Though from what I can tell groups are still under mass construction and Microsoft is going to be adding new and useful features over time. For the moment however they are really missing the mark on a few key features.
What Live Groups Needs To Beat Google Apps
1. Office Online needs Real-Time collaboration
When working in a shared Google Docs file with other users you can see real-time what they are working on. Google Docs does something groovy where it highlights boxes and you can literally do real-time chats within a document that you are editing. As it is Office Online requires you to do a page refresh to see changes. If Microsoft wants to keep up with Google they need to get this implemented, now!
2. Where are discussions?
According to the Windows Live Groups page there is supposed to be a Discussions feature. The feature is supposed to work like a message board or forum an make it easy for people to post useful information on the group home page. Correct me if I’m wrong, but for some reason this feature just doesn’t exist? I was ready to switch completely out of Google Docs the second I saw this feature advertised, yet it’s no where to be found…
3. No mobile access to Live Groups?
Whether you’re using an iPhone or Blackberry, mobile.live.com has no access to Live Groups. The option isn’t even there!
4. Better Performance
Comparing this to Google Docs, Windows Live Groups is VERY piggy slow… Each screen requires a reload followed by a 3-10 second wait. Ouch, that hurts.
Windows for live groups is a pretty good start for Microsoft and although a bit light on features, I expect it will only get better. With it’s current iteration I would have to say it’s not ready for the “Small Business” but it should be everything you need for a small club or family collaboration site. Perhaps what we will see is Windows Live Groups will be for consumers and Microsoft Office Live Workspace will be for small business and BPOS for the large corporations??? We will have to just wait and see.
Being that this is the first release with Live Groups and Office Web Apps 2010 being integrated, I expect things to get better over time. That being said, if Microsoft expects this to compete with Google Docs in the online market they need to fix at least the few items I listed above. Until then, I’m afraid it’s just 1 or 2 notches above being a fun party planning tool.