Yahoo subsidiary Zimbra this week unveiled what could be a major shift in the company's email strategy.
Zimbra's move, nevertheless, nearly passed unnoticed amid the furore this week over Microsoft's $44.6bn (£22.9bn) Yahoo takeover bid.
Email is central to Yahoo, with Yahoo Mail receiving more than one billion visits per month. A appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show by Yahoo chief executive and co-founder Jerry Yang last month centred on how the company will use Web 2.0 to make Mail a central consumer experience.
Version 5.0 of the Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS), unveiled on Tuesday, could indicate still more of what Yahoo has in mind for its email and web services — unless, of course, the company becomes a part of Microsoft.
ZCS is based on an Exchange-like server and an Ajax-based client that runs in a web browser. The new edition allows users to take the browser-based client offline, and also extends its reach to mobile devices such as the BlackBerry, J2ME-enabled handsets such as the Motorola Razr and mobile web browsers such as that found in Apple's iPhone.
The new client incorporates numerous tweaks, including web-based instant messaging supporting multiple conversations and group chats, and sharing inboxes and email folders with others, including a read-only option. Briefcase folders can now also be shared with others.
ZCS 5.0 applets called Zimlets integrate with Flickr, Yahoo Local, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Search, among other properties. Moreover, the Ajax technology found in ZCS is intended to find its way into Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Calendar later this year.
Many consider ZCS really to be a direct competitor to Microsoft Exchange, which may not bode well for its future if the Yahoo bid succeeds. Like Exchange, ZCS supports the Outlook client, as well as Apple Mail, Eudora and other widely used applications. The new version offers native email, contacts, calendar and task synchronisation from Zimbra to Outlook 2007.
Unlike Exchange, ZCS is based on open-source technologies such as Postfix, MySQL, OpenLDAP and Apache, and the server is itself released under the Mozilla Public License (MPL). The web client is covered by the slightly different Zimbra Public License (ZPL), which requires an attribution to Zimbra.
The company claims 13,500 active members in the Zimbra open-source developer community.
A free, open-source version of ZCS is available alongside the commercially supported Network Edition.
According to Zimbra co-founder Satish Dharmaraj, Zimbra's open-source nature will ensure the product's future.
"We just made an irrevocable contribution of Zimbra 5.0 to open source," he said in a blog post to users. "No-one can take that away. We will remain true and faithful to our contractual obligations and will do everything possible to make sure that our biggest assets — you — remain confident that we are here to stay and execute."