Zimbra rolls out new version with 'Documents'

Zimbra continues to plow ahead of the competition with its browser-based collaboration suite. Today the company launched Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS) 4.
Written by Dan Farber, Inactive

Zimbra continues to plow ahead of the competition with its browser-based collaboration suite. Today the company launched Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS) 4.0, adding Zimbra Documents, a wiki-like document editor, support for mobile devices and new administration features. 

Zimbra Documents uses the company's ALE (AJAX Linking and Embedding) technology or embedding rich content into an editable document that can be shared, published, and edited within a browser environment. Documents can be nested inside of other documents. ALE is extensible--users can add their own customer editors, which simply generate HTML or XHTML code. Zimbra has a basic speadsheet editor, which lacks charting and pivot tables. Dietzen said it would be a safe bet that Zimbra will add a presentation program as part of its growing collaboration suite. 

Zimbra Documents allows for ad hoc collaboration--users can share pages, invite other users, set parameters (such as read-only, edit, add, remove, accept, decline)--and takes advantage of Zimlet mashups and search. However, unlike a wiki Zimbra Documents doesn't yet support version history. Zimbra CTO Scott Dietzen said that feature is slated for the next release.

"Wiki's appeal to a techie audience," Dietzen said. "We are targeting a class of userswho may not be comfortable with most sophisticated features.  A challenge for wikis is that they are localized to special group function. We have a way to deliver sharing via email and ad hoc collaboration." Zimbra's integration of applications, such as spreadsheet and document editors, with more email, calendaring and mashups is a more integrated approach than JotSpot, which has a set of collaborative, customizable applications built on a wiki foundation.


Zimbra includes a spreadsheet, which can be embedded in Zimbra Documents, edited in place and shared

ZCS 4.0 also have improved the mobile aspects of the suite with over the air, native continuous synchronization of messaging, calendaring, and contacts across a wide range of mobile devices and platforms, including Windows Mobile, Palm and Symbian. Zimbra Mobile Blackberry support is via a third-party. Zimbra Mobile is priced starting $500 for up to 50 users. 

ZCS 4.0 also has a new skinning package. According to Dietzen, skins can be created and deployed on the server in less than 30 minutes. Users have control over colors and fonts, as well as some of the page real estate. Dietzen also said the ZCS 4.0 is the first AJAX applications with full keyboard navigation.

Since its launch last year, Zimbra has garnered about 200 customers and "north of a million" seats, Dietzen said. However, outside of a 100,000 seat deal with H&R Block, the customers are of the SMB variety. Zimbra is trying to expand its customers base by going after ISPs who don't  want to build a  collaboration suite for customers from the ground up. So far, Zimbra has signed up Orolix in Brazil and Tata Indicom in India, as well as some hosted SaaS providers, such as Contegix. In addition, Zimbra affiliates, such as ISPs, can serve ads via a Zimlet and customize the skin in a few areas.

"We aspire to be the leader, the de facto open source collaboration suite, the Linux or Apache in our space," Dietzen said. "We can’t restrict ourselves to any space. As long as we build enough flexibility into the architecture and harness the community, we think we can have result like Linux and Apache."

That statement of intent may be apply for Zimbra as open source platform, but it's more accurate to say that Zimbra wants to be for Web collaboration what Red Hat is to Linux--the major alternative to Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint. Zimbra will start to run into Microsoft's Web-based Office Live, and potentially Google could decide to expand its email/calendaring/presence platform into a more full-featured collaboration suite. Zimbra's open source roots and the leadership the company has shown so far in developing a so-called next generation, AJAXed browser-based application are advantages, but the company will has to scale fast in gaining customers and community support for its open source project to keep from being a footnote in computing history. 

ZCS 4.0 Open Source Edition--including about 135,000 lines of Javascript--is free, and the commercial Network Edition pricing starts at $28 per mailbox per year. The Network Edition, similar to many other commercial applications based on open source, includes some closed source, such as code from Verity for attachment indexing and rendering; fault tolerance and clustering features; cross mailbox search; and capabilities in the mobile edition.

"There are some intellectual property issues and some business issues," Dietzen said. "We have to ship a standalone, usable product. Open source zealots are comfortable with for cross-mailbox search--they tend not to worry about SOX compliance, but that’s the artful balance for anyone trying to develop a network model where all code is not available in open source."

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