For awhile I've felt that Zimbra(the company and the e-mail app) was one of the coolest things going. The CEO, Satish Dharmaraj, invented JSPs while working at Sun; the CTO, Scott Dietzen, was one of the best technical minds and spokespeople BEA ever had. Their software is a terrific, open source e-mail server with a browser-based AJAX client that's also a collaborative document management system sporting all sorts of XML goodies, including Zimlets, little widgets for lightweight integration with other systems.
Now comes the news that Yahoo has bought Zimbra for $350 million. After Zimbra landed a big deal with Comcast in May, followed by a claim just last month that Zimbra had "more than nine million paid mailboxes," I actually thought this startup was going to go it alone. Perhaps it was an acquisition play after all.
My first thought: Doesn’t Yahoo already have a great AJAX e-mail client? It lacks the document management and integration capabilities of Zimbra, so I suppose Yahoo figures those added capabilities will open new doors. And unlike Yahoo Mail, the Zimbra client can run offline. In his blog today, Dharmaraj explained that Yahoo was acquiring Zimbra "to extend its email leadership to the university, business, and ISP markets."
On the one hand, I’m delighted Zimbra's killer UI and spiffy development environment will reach a wider audience. On the other hand, does Yahoo really know what to do with a business-oriented SaaS (software-as-a-service) application? As Michael Arrington speculates in TechCrunch, perhaps Yahoo's next target is Zoho, a purveyor of MS Office-like, browser-based productivity apps (which also recently gained the offline capability). With Zoho and Zimbra under its belt Yahoo can then make a full assault on Google Apps.
Makes sense. But the predictability of today's acquisition fever -- where so many smart, scrappy little companies are getting get gobbled by big ones that have a 50/50 chance of knowing what to do with them -- is actually starting to make me nostalgic for the random silliness of the dot-com boom.