Startup Zimbra releases open-source Notes alternative

A startup run by BEA's former CTO Scott Dietzen has released a beta version of its open-source collaboration software.

Zimbra, the open-source startup that lured Scott Dietzen away from his former job as chief technology officer of BEA Systems, has released a beta version of its enterprise collaboration software. The company bills the software as an open-source alternative to enterprise collaboration products such as IBM Lotus Notes or Microsoft's Exchange Server.

Called the Zimbra Collaboration Suite, the software includes e-mail, contact and calendar software, according to an announcement posted Wednesday on Zimbra's Web site. The suite includes an AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and Extensible Markup Language) client, as well as server software. In addition to Zimbra's own code, the suite employs a number of open source products, including the MySQL database and the Apache Software Foundation's Lucerne indexing software.

AJAX is a group of Internet technologies designed to give Web browsing a smoother, more dynamic feel. By using them in its collaboration product, Zimbra hopes to develop full-featured, easy-to-use messaging software that can be accessed using any Web browser, said Stephen O'Grady, a senior analyst with RedMonk LLC who has been briefed by Zimbra.

The most widely used enterprise messaging products have not always worked well with Web browser clients, because they were designed for client-server rather than Web-based networks, O'Grady said. "This is a space that's really crying out for innovation," he said.

Google's Gmail service has used AJAX technologies to incorporate advanced features such as spell checking and search without becoming slow and clunky, and Zimbra is now trying to apply some of those same techniques to its own software, O'Grady said.

In the coming weeks, Zimbra plans to launch a service called the Zimbra Network, which will include product support and other services, according to Wednesday's announcement. Pricing for the Zimbra Network was not announced.

Zimbra is not the first company to take a shot at open-source collaboration products. In February, Novell released code from its NetMail server as part of its Hula collaboration server effort, and other organizations, such as Scalix and Lotus founder Mitch Kapor's Open Source Application Foundation, also are involved in the space.

Zimbra is run by Chief Executive Officer Satish Dharmaraj, who formerly was vice president of messaging products at mobile software provider Openwave Systems Dharmaraj is also known for leading the development of Java Server Pages while at Sun Microsystems.

The Zimbra Collaboration Server runs on two versions of Linux: Fedora Core 3 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4. The Zimbra client, which can be accessed using the Firefox or Internet Explorer browser, runs on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, the announcement said. Users can also access the Collaboration Server with existing mail clients such as Outlook or Apple Mail.

Zimbra, which previously went by the name Liquid Systems, did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

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Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
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