Startups Suite Provides Open Collaboration

Zimbra's open-source Zimbra Collaboration Suite takes on Microsoft's Exchange and IBM's Lotus Notes.

Startup Zimbra Inc. this week will emerge from stealth mode with the rollout of its open-source Zimbra Collaboration Suite, designed as an alternative to Microsoft Corp.s Exchange and IBMs Lotus Notes.

The San Mateo, Calif., companys suite, slated to launch later this fall, is a client/server system for e-mail, contacts and group calendaring, said Zimbra CEO and founder Satish Dharmaraj, formerly with Openwave Systems Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Zimbras management team also includes President and Chief Technology Officer Scott Dietzen, former CTO at BEA Systems Inc.

Zimbras Web client is meant to provide thick-client functionality, but the suites collaboration tools can also be accessed through desktop applications, including Microsofts Outlook, the Mozilla Foundations Thunderbird and Apple Computer Inc.s AppleMail.

The Zimbra client is built on AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) and communicates with the Zimbra server via XML and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). It runs on Windows, Linux and Apple desktops in the Firefox and Internet Explorer Web browsers.

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"We built the client using AJAX, but we think thats just the tip of the iceberg," Dharmaraj said. "All of the power is expressed from the server, so you dont have to install ActiveX or Java or any other plug-ins."

Zimbras Web client includes such functionality as search, message tagging and integration with back-end enterprise databases via Web services., an online retailer of outdoor adventure gear, has been beta testing the suite for about a month, said company CTO Dave Jenkins in Salt Lake City.

"We are a Linux shop, so there is no way we were going with Microsoft Exchange, but we needed calendaring, complex messaging and group-managed e-mails," Jenkins said. "We were about to go with [Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux] Openexchange, but then we came across Zimbra. Because [Zimbra uses] XML and very thin bits of data to go back and forth, the network load is next to nothing."

Zimbra provides both a free and a network version of Zimbra Collaboration Suite.

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