Comcast plans to launch SmartZone, a major replacement for its current and uninspired consumer email service. At the core of SmartZone is a new version of Zimbra's open source, brower-based collaborative suite that includes email, instant messaging and voice mail access. In addition, Comcast is working with HP on the infrastructure side and Plaxo for its contact management to create its communications dashboard. On the security front, SmartZone will use tools from Bizanga, Cloudmark and Trend Micro.
SmartZone, due later this year according to the company, is the only way for Comcast to keep Comcast.net customers from migrating to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other players who have invested heavily in creating more state-of-the-art Web-based communications suites for consumers. Features include listening to voice mail online and video instant messaging. For example, you can go to the SmartZone to see your missed call log, forward voice mails via email and see who in among your contacts is online via a presence indicator.
Zimbra provides the bulk of the user-facing capabilities for SmartZone. The company has targeted hosting providers and currently claims about 6 million users. Comcast brings more than 12 million customers, who are users of the company's high-speed Internet and digital voice services.
"The Web 'office' is a complicated and crowded space, but there is a lot of demand from consumers and SMBs," said Satish Dharmaraj, co-founder and CEO of Zimbra. "Google has a suite and Microsoft may come out with a lightweight suite, and there are a lot of hosting providers with existing customers and billing relationships."
As an open source company, Zimbra has more than Google and Microsoft to compete against for deals. "We are not losing sleep over deals--we are winning our share, but I do lose sleep over how fast people are chasing us and how fast we can run to be six months to a year ahead," Dharmaraj said.
"The big advantage of open source the creativity and innovation from the community. We show what we have and now everybody can take that and make slight tweaks and come after us, intentionally or unintentionally, on some of the things we are doing. A big difference between a good startup and bigger company and those that don’t survive is how to keep running far ahead [of competition]. Zimbra was the first online suite to have offline AJAX capability. "I'm sure within six months others will have it."
It's also helpful to have funding in the neighborhood of $30 million to run the race. The company is now focused on building its suite with a full complement of productivity applications in addition to introducing the voice mail and instant messaging to other customers, Dharmaraj said.
Zimbra already has modules for document creation and spreadsheets, and planning to add presentation and Web conferencing capabilities, Dharmaraj said. The next release of Zimbra, due in the summer timeframe, will include the features from SmartZone edition as connections to Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Mobile devices.