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September 17, 2007

Yahoo Buys Zimbra to Compete with Google Apps

Yahoo paid $350 million for Zimbra, a collaborative online suite that integrates email and group calendar using an AJAX interface. The application can be installed on your server or you can choose from one of the many hosting solutions. Because it's open source, you can install it for free unless you need support or some proprietary components.

The ugly-yet-versatile application has many of Gmail's features (conversation view, labels, attachment preview), but adds IMAP support, attachment indexing, saved searches and shared address books. Zimbra Mail is closely integrated with the calendar, so you can always see the recent events and the events that take place in a day mentioned in a message. Zimbra also offers an offline version, mobile clients for many devices and great compatibility with the most important enterprise software.

"Zimbra is a global leader in email and collaboration software and its services are aimed at universities, businesses, and ISPs worldwide, which is a major driver of what made the company so attractive to us," explains Yahoo. The decision to buy Zimbra had a lot to do with the growth of Google Apps and the potential partnerships with universities and ISPs that could endanger Yahoo Mail's position. By combining its existing solutions with Zimbra, Yahoo could extend its influence in the corporate space. After all, both Yahoo Mail Beta (previously known as OddPost) and Zimbra Mail are heavily influenced by desktop email clients like Microsoft Outlook and sacrifice the performance for a familiar interface.

When Zimbra was launched, in 2005, many people were impressed. "I would go out on a limb and say that it combines the best of both Microsoft Outlook and Google's GMail," said Om Malik. Others think this is not the right approach: "To me, Zimbra doesn't in any way resemble my mental model of a web application; it resembles Microsoft Outlook. On the other hand Gmail, which is also an Ajax-based email application, almost exactly matches my mental model of how a web application should look and feel."

Both Gmail and Zimbra were revolutions that had a big impact. Here's how Zimbra described enterprise email's problems in 2005:

As an email administrator, are you happy with how much time you spend per mailbox on basic "care and feeding"? Is Email Broken? Web browsing and email are the two killer applications of the Web. Given the ubiquity of email, it is perhaps surprising that we users are not a happier lot. The frustrations oft associated with the email experience stand in contrast to the relative satisfaction of web browsing and web administration.

You can judge for yourself if Zimbra solved email's problems from this demo or this Flash tour. As for Google Apps, the competition from Yahoo could accelerate its development. Here's some free advice directly from Zimbra:

"Since all Google Docs are stored on Google's servers, public companies would face big Sarbanes-Oxley compliance issues if they deployed Google Apps. Zimbra's Web 2.0 messaging and collaboration platform provides enterprise customers with freedoms that Google Apps just can't provide, including the ability to archive for compliance purposes. They can use Zimbra as a hosted service or deploy it on-site. They can use it online or offline while retaining killer AJAX functionality. They can offer their employees access from any desktop, Web, or mobile client."


This blog is not affiliated with Google.