Zimbra Takes Aim at Enterprise Collaboration

The enterprise collaboration market got a bit more competitive today with
the release of the open source Zimbra collaboration and messaging server.


Zimbra, which has been in beta use for over a year has now officially released
its’ flagship product Zimbra Collaboration Suite 3.0 (ZCS) and made it
generally available. Though Zimbra will work from a client point of view on
Microsoft Windows desktops, it is not currently available for Windows
Servers and will not challenge Microsoft Exchange directly on Windows. If an
enterprise is looking to provide additional functionality beyond Exchange or
to migrate to a Linux server though, the Zimbra technology may well be an
attractive one.


Zimbra is a convergence of open source, Web Services and AJAX technologies.
There are two fundamental components to the Zimbra solution, the
collaboration server and the browser based AJAX client which will run on all
major browsers.


Integrated search and anti-spam/anti-virus are core features of ZCS 3.0. RSS
and Atom syndication enables users to not only subscribe to feeds but to
publish their mailbox content whether it be email folders, contacts or
calendar via RSS as well. On the calendaring side of things, ZCS 3.0 can
import or export calendars via the iCal standard.


Web Services integration is also a key part of ZCS 3.0. Baked in
capabilities include the ability to recognize map addresses in emails and pull up the associated map via the Yahoo maps API. Phone
number recognition within ZCS, is integrated with Skype and other VoIP and
softphone services to enable click to call functionality.


At the heart of ZCS’s extensibility and Web Services feature set is
something that Zimbra calls, “Zimlets”. Zimbra defines Zimlets as a
mechanism for integrating the Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS) with third
party information systems and content.


Scott Dietzen, president and CTO, Zimbra explained that Zimbra has been in
alpha and beta for more than year with the first customers touching the
technology in late 2004. It started off as mostly messaging no calendaring
and no Zimlets.


“Open source community and customer feedback reinforced the AJAX model and
were instrumental in getting us to support iCal, RSS and Atom, and
especially around Zimlets,” Dietzen told internetnews.com.


Zimlets are a key component of how Zimbra encourages community contributions
and grow its functionality without breaking anything within Zimbra.


“What we’ve tried to accomplish with Zimlet and our AJAX toolkit is to make
it a lot easier for people to develop add-ons that increase Zimbra’s reach
and value without them having to go in and make internal changes,” Dietzen
said.


Being open source has helped Zimbra to grow its technology and its user
base, but it has also been the cause of some limited concern as well.
Dietzen noted that in the beginning Zimbra received a “handful of concerns”
about intellectual property related issues. Zimbra has since moved to allay
end user concerns and provide assurances by sharing its intellectual
property contribution agreement.


“As a result of SCO, enterprises are bit more aware and wanting to check to
make sure that their open source technology providers are doing their
homework to protect IP and make sure they can provide squeaky clean IP,”
Dietzen commented.


Though on the client side ZCS will work in an Windows based browser, there
is currenty no Windows Server distribution publicly available. The reason is
quite simple: Exchange.


“I think that the Exchange offering on Windows Server is the strongest
player in the market,” Dietzen said. “For now we want to co-opt the windows
client and active directory but for people committed to windows server for
the most part I think they are already on Exchange.”


“And that’s a tougher decision to unroll then some of the other messaging
and collaboration technologies that don’t have calendaring and some of the
other modern features.”


That said though, whether an enterprise has already deployed Exchange or
even IBM/Lotus Domino or Novell Groupwise, Dietzen argues that Zimbra can
still add value with its AJAX extensions and web collaboration model. Zimbra
is part of the IBM backed Open AJAX project which recently
got underway
to help promote AJAX developments and deployment.


“Our opportunity is to complement the infrastructure that is already there
whether that’s Exchange or Domino and then providing a web environment for
extending the reach of services out to the mobile workforce,” he said.


ZCS 3.0 is available in both the freely available open source and a fee
based Network Edition as well. Based on the use case so far though, Dietzen
noted that north of 85 percent are choosing the open source version and it’s
impossible to tell how many of those are converting to paid users at this
point. Zimbra Network adds support and features like clustering, fault
tolerance and disaster recovery that are not in the open source release.


“I think in the open source world, you develop as much value as you can you
throw it over the fence and anecdotally collect feedback through your forums
and defect reports that people submit,” Dietzen explained. “Ultimately in
our case we think we have some significant enterprise oriented features that
are going to drive the more business critical customers to be inclined to
want to purchase the Zimbra Network.”

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