I personally love it. I have not done a site wide switch but have been using it on a few workgroups.
With the new Zimbra version 5, the web browser is becoming as feature-rich an application as Outlook, Evolution, or Entourage. And pick your platform… Mac, Windows and Linux: the interface for your key business tools now remains the same, lowering support and training costs, and improving communication between team members.
Zimbra has upgraded its already award-winning groupware to deliver material new features, including file-sharing, secure chat, task management, comprehensive iPhone support, and perhaps most notably Zimbra Desktop, an off-line mode so users can stay in a web browser even when not connected to the internet. Now you can surf your email, calendars and contacts, even when the internet itself is inconvenient (yes, this still happens for some). With its innovative technology already a strong competitor in the groupware market, Zimbra 5 delivers a winning combination of features, at competitive prices, with experienced and authorized support that even the most demanding organizations should consider.
Whether it’s just permitting users to set their own away messages, or providing a comprehensive, web-based interface for mail, calendaring and contacts that still syncs to mobile devices and common desktop clients such as Outlook, Thunderbird and Mac Mail, many professionals responsible for IT at organizations around the world are rethinking their collaboration systems, support and services. As the risk and migration costs decrease, and the obvious benefits of the transition increase, many of these IT decision makers are considering Zimbra as an alternative technology in the move to improve compatibility, efficiency, and the opportunities generated for their companies by enhanced collaboration.
Recently purchased by Yahoo!, Zimbra is a software company based in San Mateo, California. Zimbra is the maker of the Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS), server-based software that currently delivers all-in-one email, shared and delegated calendars, contacts, wiki document sharing, anti-spam/virus filtering, user management and other enterprise groupware features. Zimbra’s software has a free, open-sourced version that offers most of the features of its commercial, licensed and supported versions. Its primary focus is developing great software, and Zimbra profits by selling licenses largely through a network of authorized value-added-resellers (VARs) who deliver customized support services, and licensing the software for use by large ISPs and smaller, support-oriented, authorized Hosting Service Providers (HSPs).
Not only available through a full-featured web browser, but also synchronizing with Windows and Macintosh clients such as Outlook, Mail.app, iCal and AddressBook, Zimbra can run both on-premise for organizations with the internal or outsourced resources to manage mail servers, or as software as a service (SaaS), hosted with an authorized Zimbra hosting provider. Zimbra maintains a list of authorized consultants (VARs) to assist with installation and support, and turn-key hosted providers (dedicated and shared servers), reducing the complexity and risk of migrating, with some of whom clients’ email and services can be up-and-running in minutes.
One of the big differences between SaaS-only-providers and Zimbra, is that unlike Google Apps for instance, you can choose to run Zimbra in your own office, select a dedicated server from a hosting provider for advanced customization, or start with turn-key, shared hosting, and migrate to one of these other solutions down the road. This means with Zimbra you can for instance, use the built-in Spam and Virus filtering system, you can disable this and use a third-party solution that enables personalized white and black lists and other features the way <a href=”http://www.01.com”>01.com</a> does, and you can substitute your own or hosted solution like SpamSoap. Zimbra gives you more choices, which means further down the road, when new technologies are introduced, you’ll have an easier time incorporating them into your organization, wherever they may be “located.” For your reference, a comparison table of Google Apps and hosted Zimbra is available here.
While it serves the cross-platform needs of organizations dependent on Microsoft Windows and Macintosh, because the Zimbra server software runs on top of Linux and Macintosh operating systems, and delivers a rich, Outlook-like interface through a web-browser, Zimbra tends to lower the costs of collaboration for organizations by providing a common, secure interface for employees regardless of their desktop client, or where they are, as well as materially reducing up-front licensing fees for competitive products such as Microsoft Exchange, Novell Groupwise and Lotus Notes. Additionally, Zimbra reduces reliance on the Microsoft Suite of products, as it is not necessary to stay up-to-date with, and incur the licensing costs of the most recent operating systems nor versions of software such as Windows or Outlook. For your reference, a comparison table of hosted Exchange by the leading providers 1and1.com and Rackspace.com, and Zimbra hosted by 01.com is available here. Most hosting providers will manage migration as part of the one-time, setup charges.
If you’re considering a dedicated server, or hosting Zimbra yourself, you may be relieved to know that in our experience, except for some performance improvements, many times employees are not even aware of the transition to Zimbra from platforms such as Exchange. This is because Zimbra supports MAPI with Outlook, and the standard, secure IMAP implementation in addition to POP3. You can, and many companies do, only introduce the new features of Zimbra once the technical migration is complete.
Migrating to Zimbra is straight-forward in most cases, and a great benefit of the migration process is that once in Zimbra, organizations find themselves with standards-based data sets that can then be more easily integrated with other structured data sources, and perhaps most importantly, ported much more easily to other groupware systems in the future. Once of Zimbra’s great strengths is its data portability, and by focusing on inter-operability and data standards, it does not trap organizations. On the contrary, Zimbra opens the door to opportunity for organizations that make the move, future-proofing the investment in knowledge, time and other resources required to migrate. And when it comes to future-proofing, Zimbra 4 and 5 both also use HSM, hierarchical storage management, which enables administrators to add more disk space as needed, without downtime (aka horizontal scalability).
Zimbra is packed with cutting-edge features and also works well with others, as you should expect, as it is collaboration software, after all! Integrating with Active/Open Directory services, typically using Open LDAP, Zimbra uses a system of plug-ins called “Zimlets” that further enable organizations to integrate Zimbra into existing IT infrastructure while reducing if not eliminating the costs that would normally have been associated with rewriting integration code to take advantage of updates and upgrades as they become available. This is particularly important, because Zimbra, unlike most other companies, comes out with updates and upgrades as often as monthly. These updates are not usually “patches”, but offer material improvements and new features, and are often desirable. For this reason, those who do not turn to a turn-key hosting services, and instead choose to run their own servers often decide to hire an authorized Zimbra consultant (aka VAR) to specify, install and maintain the server, or servers, at least for the first year, while they learn how to support and maintain the servers themselves. In addition to true 24/7 support and monitoring, some of these Zimbra consultants also offer other enterprise services, such as help desk-to-help desk support, on-premise and remote training, customized knowledge base creation and maintenance
The current version of Zimbra running at 01.com as of the time of this writing is 4.5.10. [<a href=”http://www.01.com”>01.com</a> upgraded to Zimbra 5 in February, 2008] This version supports the majority of services most organizations require, including and not limited to secure imap email, anti-virus/spam, calendaring, contacts, desktop sync to off-line clients such as Outlook 2003 and Mac desktop applications like Mail.app, iCal and AddressBook, over-the-air sync to mobile devices (Windows Mobile, Palm, and currently with Notify but also expected later this year with BES, Blackberry), and a basic collaborative wiki/shared documents/versioning service. Zimbra Archiving and Discovery is optional, providing undeletable, fully searchable across mailboxes, archives of email typically for SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act) compliance.
Version 5 of Zimbra was released on New Years 2008, and delivers some major new features that are likely to extend its popularity significantly, as it extends its compatibility by complying with standards such as WebDav and CalDav (also subscribed to notably by Apple’s new iCal Server in the currently new OS X Leopard Server) and will compete in new, related markets, including file sharing, currently dominated by players such as Microsoft Sharepoint, with a system that integrates all collaborative features into one, flexible, rich, Ajax, web 2.0 environment. A free demo of Zimbra 5 is currently available from the <a href=”http://www.zimbra.com”>Zimbra website</a>. A virtually free demo of version 4.5.10 [updated in February to version 5] of Zimbra in general release is available from a top-tier hosting environment maintained by 01.com, an authorized Zimbra host and solutions provider that intends to offer Zimbra 5 upon its general release, and upgrade its existing installations as soon as Zimbra 5 has proven stable for enterprise commercial, production deployments. The planned upgrade to Zimbra 5 for 01.com is listed in <a href=”http://faqs.01.com”>01.com’s Zimbra FAQs</a>. [01.com upgraded to version 5 in February, 2008] 01.com offers both personal (individual) and business accounts (bring your own domain name, manage your own mailboxes), starting at $3.99/account.
While some of the new features of Zimbra 5 have been part of competitors’ products for some time, having them all in one place, integrated and reachable not only from familiar desktop clients on both Windows, Linux and Apple systems but also through a common web-browser is new, and to its already long list, select Zimbra 5 free new features include:
1. Task management and synchronization
2. File sharing and storage using Zimbra briefcases
3. Zimbra Desktop – enables web browsing of Zimbra info while off-line
4. Integrated iPhone interface through iZimbra
5. Extended web document sharing/wiki/wysiwyg
The recent purchase by Yahoo! is considered by most to be positive, if for no more reason than the acquisition removes Zimbra from the legions of start-ups, and greatly reduces the risk that may have previously been assigned by more established organizations to investing in the Zimbra collaboration technology, instead of stalwarts such as Exchange, Notes, or Groupwise. The purchase by Yahoo! came on the heels of many other successes, notably the adoption of Zimbra technology by Comcast, for use for its customer base of tens-of-millions.
These successes combined with the confidence shown by Yahoo! in its mostly-cash acquisition have quashed most questions about the long-term viability of Zimbra and the development of the Zimbra Collaboration Suite, leaving an open-road to Zimbra’s adoption by by the early majority of organizations looking to reduce costs and their reliance on Microsoft, and introduce opportunities to communicate more efficiently.
As for it competing with Exchange the answer is Yes it could but you will really need to customize it and configure it a lot more than Exchange out of the box.