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Zimbra Puts AJAX on its Calendar

AJAX  is an online-only technology, right? Not necessarily.

Zimbra, a company known for its AJAX-powered online collaboration suite, has figured out a way to bring AJAX offline. It may not be part of Zimbra's next update. But it is coming, soon.

AJAX is a browser-reliant technology that utilizes Javascript and XML   elements, which then interact with server-based components to create a fluid, desktop-like experience in a browser-based application.

That's all well and good when you're online. But offline, desktop applications still work; not so with browser-based applications, unless of course you can find a way to replicate the online experience. That's what Zimbra is developing.

"The way it works is we install a small caching server locally and it acts as a Zimbra agent to recreate all the data needed for the same browser UI experience whether you are connected or not," Scott Dietzen, president and CTO of Zimbra, explained to internetnews.com.

Zimbra is updating its namesake Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS) with a Beta 1 Release of version 4.5 that is considered to be feature complete. The release will be complemented with a virtual appliance as well the future promise of offline capability.

The Zimbra appliance is a collaborative effort with rPath Linux. The rPath-powered appliance includes the underlying Linux operating system and can be deployed on bare metal hardware or as a virtual image that will run on a VMware player.

"We're really trying to extend the reach of Zimbra outside of just the Linux-savvy system admins that tend to be the ones running Zimbra today," Dietzen said. "With the software appliance, if you're, say, a Windows administrator, you can bring up Zimbra without having to learn the idiosyncrasies of the underlying Linux [os]."

Version 4.5, currently labeled as Beta 1 will offer users improved server performance as well as security enhancements.

"The current version of Zimbra didn't provide a lot to protect users against simple dictionary attacks," Dietzen noted. Dictionary attacks occur when hackers use words found in a common English dictionary in order to try password login attempts.

In 4.5 administrators can now set policy such that passwords need to be a certain length and other such criteria that make passwords more secure. The system will also automatically disable login after a specified number of failed login attempts.

Since Microsoft struck a deal with Novell regarding Novell's SUSE Linux offerings, interoperability and patents, open source software vendors such as Zimbra are facing questions such as whether its offerings are in the clear regarding potential intellectual property claims.

In Zimbra's case, Dietzen said although Zimbra doesn't have an endorsement from Microsoft like Novell does, it has been very aggressive in trying to support as much of the Microsoft infrastructure as it makes sense for them to support.

In particular Zimbra's professional Network edition product includes support for Microsoft's MAPI (Messaging Application Programming Interface) protocol, which enables Zimbra to interoperate with Microsoft Outlook. It's all above board, he said.

"MAPI is a published and documented interface. It's the same technology that RIM uses to integrate its Blackberry mobile devices and there is good precedent with this technology that it is a published, supported interface from Microsoft."