Today VMware announced version 8.0 of Zimbra, its email server product. This update adds integration with unified communications solutions from Cisco and Mitel, as well as more features for both admins and end users. Based on some hints that VMware dropped, however, the client experience will get a lot better with Zimbra 9.0.
Zimbra is an email server product that VMware purchased early in 2010. VMware quoted figures of 85 million paid mailboxes across 250,000 organizations, making it the number three email solution behind Exchange and Gmail.
Zimbra is a component of VMware’s post-PC stack, which is all based around the Horizon Application manager. Other components include Octopus, SocialCast, and Windows apps and desktops through View and ThinApp.
Zimbra supports a wide array of clients through a wide variety of protocols. Currently, they have a web client and a desktop client (left over from version 7.2, more on that below). Outlook and other desktop clients are supported through MAPI, POP, IMAP, CalDav, and CardDAV; mobile devices are supported via Exchange ActiveSync and BES. Zimbra can also share information with Exchange and Active Directory via LDAP and WebDAV.
New Zimbra 8 features
What’s new with Zimbra 8.0? First on the list is integration with unified communications solutions from Cisco and Mitel. The clients aren’t 100% integrated yet—most of the UC features are integrated into the Zimbra web client, but other applications are necessary to actually place calls.
On the administrative end, there are improvements to the virtual appliance to allow for faster migration and upgrades, more streamlined user provisioning with Active Directory, better scaling, and high availability.
For end users, there aren’t any new clients yet, but the web client does have more features. There’s a conversational message view (think Gmail style), there are more options for message filters and rules, an improved search function, more calendar features, and users can set their own retention policies.
Zimbra 9 will be awesome
Naturally, VMware couldn’t commit to any actual plans, but they hinted that Zimbra 9.0 would feature improvements to the client offerings. (I don't envy the product managers who have to decide what gets put in which versions.) For right now, the desktop client for Zimbra is the same one from version 7.2 (which actually consists of the web client, an embedded version of firefox, and some plugins to get it to cache locally and work offline). The idea is that by the time the 9.0 client comes around, offline features will be available via HTML5, so there will be no more desktop app anymore. Finally, there’s also talk of native mobile clients.
The word on the street has for a long time been that Zimbra isn’t too popular with users—but every feature and improvement has a chance to change this. The new clients with version 9 are what will be exciting to end users, and therefore—thanks to this employee-driven FUIT era we live in—really be able to drive acceptance. (I already love the Gmail+Chrome offline HTML5 email solution for when I’m traveling.) The other interesting thing is that a mobile Zimbra client could be one of those “sandboxed email client for BYOD” solutions that I’ve been talking about a lot lately. For right now, though, we’re only six weeks away from VMworld, so we can expect to learn new things about VMware’s email and mobile strategy soon.
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