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Zimbra updates Web-based email, collaboration

Web 2.0 poster child Zimbra updates Web-based email and collaboration suite with better Outlook, BlackBerry support.

Solution providers interested in Web-based email and collaboration might take a look at the new Zimbra Collaboration Suite 5.

Available now, the new Web-based email and collaboration offering directly synchronizes Outlook 2007 contacts, calendar items and tasks, according to Zimbra. Release 5 also promises user access to applications and data from BlackBerry handsets, J2ME devices or any mobile Web browser, including the Apple iPhone.

With this release users can now share inboxes and mail folders with their colleagues and grant read-only or full access as needed.

What Zimbra has that Google's Web-based email and collaboration lacks is inside-the-firewall credibility, some observers said.

While Google offers enterprise versions of its email and applications, it's hard to tell if there are any paying customers since Google is not exactly forthcoming.

"Have there been any takers? It's hard to tell," said Karen Hobert, analyst with The Burton Group. "There've been a gazillion downloads [of Google applications]. The problem is not whether or not the [Google] apps are robust enough for business -- although that is a concern -- but the fear out there that Google's doing something with your data that you don't want."

Zimbra, now part of Yahoo, sidesteps that issue by virtue of its executive pedigree. One co-founder, Scott Dietzen, was CTO of BEA Systems, the Web application server pioneer with a strong enterprise presence. The other, Satish Dharmaraj, was vice president of Openwave Systems' messaging product division.

Partner Inc., based in Chicago, offers up Zimbra's products via several models. It will host customers' implementations, it will remotely manage on-premise installations, and it will resell the suite, said founder Gray Rothkopf.

His company started using Zimbra internally and got hooked, Rothkopf noted. "We needed an alternative to Microsoft Exchange that runs on Linux or the Mac OS, but what really turned us on was Zimbra's pace of development," he noted.

Zimbra actually delivered features ahead of their promised release, he said, adding that is something he's never seen from any other vendor. "It generated enthusiasm in my team and that enthusiasm infected our customers. serves a mix of very small companies and larger businesses that deploy it in house with's help.

Outlook support is key for users who don't care what's on the backend server as long as their interface is unchanged. That and the better BlackBerry support is critical, he said.

Dublin-based Eircom, Ireland's largest ISP, is aboard. Zimbra makes it easy to add and embed other content and services in the suite, said Dervilla Mullan, Eircom head. Zimbra makes it easier for ISPs or other partners to brand or private-label their own services, Mullan told Its licensing also makes it easier for hosting partners to consolidate licenses and parse them out to many users.

Of course, Microsoft's gigantic $44.6 billion unsolicited bid for Yahoo affects perception of Yahoo and Zimbra in the field.

Burton Group's Hobert said Zimbra, with its pool of Web 2.0 talent, would be a crown jewel in any acquisition. Rothkopf said that Yahoo's buyout last fall of Zimbra actually helped him sell the offering. "When Yahoo first bought Zimbra we thought it would have a positive impact and so far that's been borne out. Customers' first question until then was 'How do we know Zimbra will be around in a year?' and that question went away after Yahoo bought it," Rothkopf said.

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