Microsoft is to turn its Groove collaboration software into its main application for users to access content stored on SharePoint servers, even while offline.

Groove will be renamed SharePoint Workplace and will be released in the first half of next year as part of Office 2010.

The move is somewhat belated, given that Microsoft acquired Groove all the way back in 2005. That same deal also netted Redmond the man responsible for creating Lotus Notes, Ray Ozzie, who is now Microsoft's chief software architect.

"SharePoint Workspace 2010 will enable a whole new set of scenarios that [will] help customers be more productive with Office and SharePoint through a more seamless online/offline experience," a Microsoft spokeswoman wrote via email. "SharePoint Workspace will enable users to take SharePoint sites offline and work with the content on people's desktops whether or not they are connected."

Linking the overshadowed Groove to the fast-growing SharePoint platform is a good move, said Robert Helm, an analyst with the independent Directions on Microsoft.

Microsoft said in March 2008 that it had sold 100 million licenses of SharePoint and pulled in more than $1 billion (£627 million) in related revenue.

That momentum "has Microsoft and everyone else rethinking how Groove should fit into SharePoint's world," Helm said.

While SharePoint still lags its Web 2.0 counterparts in features, its free-to-start price, tie-in with other Office software and greater potential for reliability over cheaper SaaS offerings such as Google Docs or Zoho has helped it take off, said Chris Le Tocq, an analyst with Guernsey Research.

"If you need five 9s (99.999 percent) uptime, you need to spend a little money," Le Tocq said.

Microsoft also plans to include SharePoint Workspace and OneNote in the Professional Plus suite in Office 2010. Groove and OneNote, a digital note-taking app, are today available only to buyers of Office's two most complete, and priciest, versions: Office Enterprise 2007 and Office Ultimate 2007.

That will essentially lower the price for SharePoint Workspace relative to Groove and may reinvigorate growth, which has been moribund since Groove was bought by Microsoft in March 2005, Helm said.

"My impression is that Groove never had a huge customer base, and I don't get the sense that Microsoft has grown it very substantially," he said.

Microsoft first hinted at the change via blog two weeks ago. Independent blogger Paul Thurrott, meanwhile, has screenshots of the beta of SharePoint Workspace 2010.

Groove's trademark is that it uses peer-to-peer (P2P) technology to synchronise documents and files between users. That cuts down on bandwidth requirements and allowed users to collaborate quickly and securely even if they are at different companies.

That is a feature that SharePoint, which requires a central server inside a company, is not agile at enabling today.