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Ray Ozzie and Mark McGwire ought to sit down for a beer - Buzz will buy

Today's breaking news
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Sure, one's responsible for putting 30 million fannies into Lotus Notes seats and the other launched 70 baseballs into Major League bleachers, but Ozzie and McGwire really do have two things in common:

Their fans can't wait to see what they'll do next, and you can be sure that anything less than another record-breaker will be seen by some as a flop. Unfair? Yes, but that's life in The Bigs.

One glaring difference between the two superstars is that Ozzie has been much better at escaping press attention. Since leaving Lotus in 1997 to nurture an Internet start-up called Groove Networks, the man who made groupware famous - and signs autographs at trade shows - has kept remarkably mum. Even an onslaught of undignified begging by yours truly couldn't get Ray to spill more than a few tantalizing hints about Groove.

Groove did just land a quiet $5.2 million start-up stash from venture firm Accel Partners. With the loot come a couple of big bats from Accel who will serve as Groove directors: Mitch Kapor, a newly minted partner who founded Lotus back when Notes was only a gleam in Ozzie's eye, and Jim Breyer, Accel's managing partner.

"I'm quite fortunate that they've joined me and share my vision, and that we've been able to build such a strong team to date," Ozzie says. "I'm having a blast . . . truly the best of times."

As for details, Groove's Web site offers a clue: "Groove Networks is developing new and highly innovative PC/Internet communication software that will complement the major forms of PC-based, network-based communication methods in use today: e-mail, the World Wide Web, and Notes. . . . We feel that the Internet is in its infancy, and that there is significant value to be gained by thinking a bit differently."

All that thinking and "inventing" takes time, Ozzie insists, and necessitates a low public profile.

However, Groove is currently looking for personal digital assistant and embedded system developers, in addition to object-oriented user interface engineers and quality-assurance overseers, all which may mean at least two things: Groove will play in the so-called post-PC world, and the development cycle probably isn't eons from completion.

Ozzie did say he's got about 35 disciples doing the full-tilt development boogie at Groove's modest digs in Beverly, Mass.

Two predictions: McGwire won't hit 50 homers this year. Ozzie will hit at least one.

My tiny Toyota came within a whisker of bashing Bambi on the drive home the other night, a close encounter that reminded me of two things:

The first was a newspaper column I wrote about loony locals who had their phone numbers on file with the police so they could be called the minute some driver reported fresh roadkill.

Why? . . . "Thems good eatin'."

The second was that it's becoming increasingly clear that middlemen and resellers are going to find themselves roadkill as more and more name-brand manufacturers rumble onto the Internet. One of those Big Boys, National Semiconductor, just started accepting direct online orders at www.buy.national.com. The company had previously funneled online orders to a handful of preferred channel partners.

National's not out to croak its partners, which will remain linked to the site, says Phil Gibson, the company's electronic commerce guru.

Still, these guys are sporting that deer-in-the-headlights look.

"They're probably not delighted that I'm accepting orders," Gibson acknowledges. "But they probably realize that in this day of the Web, everybody has to do what they have to do."

Grilled venison anyone?

Just because McNamara doesn't end his column with a cutesy tag line doesn't mean he's not interested in your thoughts. Contact him at pmcnamara@nww.com or (508) 820-7471.

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