VMware eyes Zimbra: Desktop ambitions come into focus

VMware is reportedly about to acquire Zimbra and the move would highlight the virtualization company's broader software ambitions.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

VMware is reportedly about to acquire Zimbra and the move would highlight the virtualization company's broader software ambitions. Boomtown's Kara Swisher is reporting that VMware will acquire Zimbra from Yahoo, which frankly just doesn't know what to do with Zimbra.

Why would VMware want to acquire a collaboration suite, desktop software and 50 million paid inboxes? VMware is the backbone of many data centers and has been surfing the virtualization wave. However, the virtualization market is becoming a real dogfight as players like Red Hat and Microsoft look to commoditize and---and cut into---VMware's momentum.

Enter VMware's move into more of the enterprise software stack. VMware sees itself as more of a cloud operating system than a virtualization player. Virtualization is just the pillar that supports a whole stack of stuff. And as we know from Microsoft history it's a huge help if you can stack software on top of an operating system.

VMware to the data center is like Windows to the desktop in many IT shops. In that context, Zimbra, which has hosted email, collaboration software and a bevy of other goodies, would be VMware's office suite. In another twist, VMware has been actively hiring former Microsofties, including a few that managed big chunks of the Office product line. Toss in a nascent move into desktop virtualization by enterprises and the move to acquire Zimbra suddenly makes a lot more sense.

On a conference call in October, VMware operating chief Tod Neilsen highlighted the company's view of the desktop.

We are very early in the desktop virtualization market, and the pace of growth is unknown. But we believe that VMware is well positioned, with great technology and a strong ecosystem, to lead this sector when it does take off.

VMware CEO Paul Maritz also noted on that call that the company is looking to build on the vSphere foundation. VSphere is VMware's cloud operating system. Zimbra would fill in a big piece of VMware's overall software puzzle.

Wedbush Securities said in a recent research note that the desktop puzzle is starting to come together for VMware:

The company’s latest version of desktop virtualization software, VMware View 4, was released in November 2009. VMware View 4 enables enterprises to improve the productivity and security of desktop computers, while cutting down on operating expenses. VMware is also developing an “offline access and mobility” feature for VMware View, expected to be released in the first half of CY’10. This enhancement to VMware should help extend the reach of VMware View to notebooks and netbooks, doubling its current addressable market.

It's hard to be a desktop player without some productivity mojo riding shotgun.

Related: VMware's SpringSource purchase sparks head scratching; Still doesn't solve the Microsoft problem

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