Zimbra, the Yahoo open-source messaging and collaboration unit that tends to get overlooked amid all of the Microsoft-Yahoo merger talk, is beta testing offline access for the Yahoo Mail, Gmail and AOL Mail Web e-mail applications, as well as some Zimbra tools.
Leveraging POP (Post Office Protocol), IMAP and the iCal standard for the calendar app, Yahoo Zimbra Desktop Beta 3 is designed to let users access their e-mail applications of choice without an Internet connection.
Such functionality is increasingly becoming table stakes for productivity apps because it helps business travelers work on their laptops while in flight, or simply in places where there is no Internet connection available.
Google in particular has been active on this front, adding offline access for Google Docs, with similar plans for Gmail and Google Calendar this year. Microsoft's Windows Live Mail app works offline.
Zimbra Desktop also enables online and offline access to Zimbra Documents, a document and spreadsheet program that allows users to embed photos. This means workers can create and edit documents and spreadsheets without switching between desktop programs or e-mailing large attachments.
The software also includes Zimbra Briefcase, which allows users to upload and access spreadsheets, documents and presentations so that users don't have to keep all attachments in e-mail.
One thing Zimbra Desktop can boast that Google can't is a task management system, called Zimbra Tasks. Tasks lets users manage projects by start and due dates, priority, progress and percent complete.
Zimbra, which Yahoo bought for $350 million in September 2007, is also adding Web 2.0 flavor to traditional e-mail via mashups.
For example, while viewing an e-mail message, users can see their schedule by hovering over a date, or see the status of a flight by looking at a flight number. Like Google's Gmail, the software also lets users convert e-mails into threaded conversations.
Yahoo Zimbra Desktop Beta Version 3 is available for free download here. Anyone who currently uses the ZCS (Zimbra Collaboration Suite), Yahoo Mail, Gmail, AOL Mail or an IMAP/POP-enabled server can use Zimbra Desktop, the company said.
Zimbra was a big deal before Yahoo acquired it, and while the software has only gotten better, Zimbra has lost some luster because of Yahoo. The parent company has been tarnished by lackluster financials and uncertainty over its future as a stand-alone company.
By targeting Yahoo for acquisition, Microsoft cast doubt on the future of Zimbra. Zimbra was actually created as an alternative to proprietary e-mail systems such as Microsoft Outlook. If Microsoft were to acquire it, it is conceivable the company could shut Zimbra down so it doesn't cannibalize Outlook.
There is slim chance of any outright cannibalization; business and home PCs everywhere tend to come with Microsoft Office, which includes Outlook. But if Microsoft were marketing and selling both, some users might choose Zimbra over Outlook because of its more open and modern Web 2.0 flavor.
Regardless, Zimbra Desktop Beta 3 is proof positive that Zimbra innovation continues.