Zimbra deepens e-mail collaboration

Open-source groupware vendor releases new version of collaboration suite

Zimbra is due to emphasize more sophisticated e-mail collaboration features and native support for mobile devices Monday when the open-source groupware vendor unveils the latest version of its software at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco.

Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS) 4.0, a combination of messaging server and client software, includes Zimbra Documents, a new tool for creating, sharing and publishing documents.

In previous versions of ZCS, the company offered e-mail, contact, and calendaring software, but now users will also be able to embed fully functional and editable documents and spreadsheets within their e-mails, Scott Dietzen, president and chief technology officer of Zimbra, said.

"People really like to live in the tools they're comfortable with," Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, said. Zimbra is hoping to succeed where rival IBM failed in terms of encouraging users to "live and breathe" within its collaboration software, he added.

Three years old, Zimbra officially launched its first software in October and describes Microsoft's Exchange groupware as its primary competitor. The start-up also competes with IBM's Notes/Domino as well as a whole host of smaller vendors including other open-source firms Open-Xchange and Scalix.

Zimbra Documents makes use of the ALE (AJAX Linking and Embedding) technology the start-up debuted in April so that users can nest a number of documents within a single e-mail message and then invite their colleagues to edit the information. AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and Extensible Markup Language) is a combination of software development tools and standards that help Web applications try to match the speed and usability of their desktop counterparts.

ZCS 4.0 also features Zimbra Mobile, technology providing native over-the-air synchronization between the groupware and a range of mobile devices including smartphones from Motorola, Nokia, and Palm. Zimbra has yet to offer native support for Research in Motion's popular BlackBerry device, currently relying on partners like Notify Technology for that capability, but hopes to make it available in future, Dietzen said.

Zimbra has around 200 paying customers ranging from small to mid-size businesses with 50 seats each for its software, to an unnamed Internet service provider (ISP) with users in the millions, according to Dietzen. Customers the start-up does publicly identify include Firefox Web browser creator Mozilla, Brazilian Internet service provider Orolix, and tax services provider H&R Block.

ZCS supports Microsoft's Outlook messaging software and runs on the two leading flavors of Linux -- Red Hat and Suse -- and Apple Computer's Mac OS X. Although ZCS also runs on Windows on the client side, Zimbra isn't seeing interest from its customers in supporting Microsoft's operating systems on the server side, Dietzen said. The start-up has a list of other operating systems it plans to support, notably the Debian distribution of Linux and Sun Microsystems' Solaris flavor of Unix, he added.

ZCS 4.0 Open Source Edition is free, while the commercially supported ZCS 4.0 Network Edition which includes features like disaster recovery costs $28 per mailbox per year. Zimbra offers ZCS as an on-premise or a hosted service.

Zimbra takes its name from "I Zimbra," the title of a song by U.S. rock band Talking Heads.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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