Facing an uncertain future as Microsoft bids for Yahoo, Zimbra, the open-source messaging and collaboration software company that was acquired by Yahoo for $350 million last September, will release the next version of its Web client, Zimbra Collaboration Suite 5.0, on Feb. 5.
ZCS 5.0, is available in 15 languages and now offers native e-mail, contacts, calendar and task synchronization from Zimbra to Outlook 2007, said John Robb, vice president of marketing and product management for the Zimbra business unit at Yahoo.
The suite also provides access to Zimbra from all BlackBerry handsets, J2ME-enabled devices and any mobile Web browser, including the Apple iPhone, Robb said.
The Zimbra AJAX Web client also now includes, for the first time, the Zimbra Desktop, which allows users of existing POP and IMAP e-mail servers to collaborate and work both online and offline.
The product’s support for the BlackBerry Enterprise Server is already being touted by some as a strategic differentiator. “From a business standpoint, this is a huge advantage for Zimbra. It’s the last box to check in a product evaluation, and Zimbra is the only open platform that offers it,” said David Smith, group technical director for Gyro International.
Web-based instant messaging, which is now built directly into the collaboration suite, supports multiple conversations and group chats, while any file from an e-mail can be stored in the Zimbra Briefcase instead of as an e-mail attachment, and those Briefcase folders can be easily shared, Robb said.
“We are excited that we now offer IM on the platform, and we have [done] some interoperability work with Yahoo’s IM as well as with online document authoring and sharing,” he said.
“A big focus for us going forward is to continue to add new capabilities, and we are looking for places where we can integrate with other Yahoo properties as that makes sense,” Robb said.
In-boxes and e-mail folders can now also be shared and can be made available with read-only access or full management, while there are also new Zimlets that “mash up” Flickr, Yahoo Local, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Search in the collaboration suite, he said.
There are five versions of the product: the free open-source edition, the consumer and business e-mail editions for service providers,; and the network standard and professional editions for enterprises and service providers. Pricing varies according to the version and number of users.
“We saw a sixfold increase in our customer base in 2007. We now have some 20,000 paying customers with more than 11 million paid mailboxes. This latest release is also the result of feedback from partners and the 13,500 active members in the Zimbra development community,” Robb said.
In the enterprise space, Zimbra counts Microsoft Exchange and IBM’s Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino as its biggest competitors, while Google Docs competes with it in the SMB (small and midsize business) space, Robb said.
“While we most often compete with Microsoft Exchange in the enterprise space, we have done some big replacements of Lotus Notes. The main reason these customers want to move to us is that we support the Mac, Linux and Windows, and IT administrators want better support and an open platform that addresses multiple problems like anti-spam, archiving and anti-virus,” he said.
The new desktop, which is a 30MB download, lets users define whatever synchronization they want with other e-mail clients and access that offline and online, without having to have a server installed.
“They will then have offline capabilities for their e-mail, address book and calendar, all of which leverage a browser-based paradigm and familiar user interface,” Robb.
Some customers, such as Dervilla Mullan, the head of ISP Eircom Online, welcome the move. “Zimbra has the broadest device and desktop support options of any messaging and collaboration solution, plus advanced Web 2.0 features in the browser,” Mullan said in a statement.
As a result of being acquired by Yahoo, Zimbra now serves customers in more than 70 countries, while more than 300 new universities have adopted the product over the past year. The company is also now able to seriously consider offering the product as a service it hosts itself, which is something customers have said they want, Robb said.
Asked about what changes a Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo could bring, and if he was worried that prospective customers might hold off until there is certainty on that front, all Robb would say was that the company remains committed to its customers and giving them the products and technologies they want.
“Going forward, we will of course look at possible areas of additional interoperability with Yahoo and its existing products, where appropriate, as well as build on the new features and functionality we delivered in this release,” he said.