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Review: Zimbra's Collaboration Suite

This open-source solution makes for easy deployment and simple, if not complete, administration.

Mike DeMaria

January 23, 2006

3 Min Read

Midsize businesses may find a high-end messaging and collaboration system, such as the Lotus Notes and Domino platforms, too complex for their needs. They may have better success with the Zimbra Collaboration Suite Network Edition, which offers Web access to e-mail and calendaring functions, and can read RSS feeds. The software also comes with an AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript with XML) toolkit for creating and integrating third-party browser-based applications.

Zimbra is chiefly open-source software, composed of ClamAV, SpamAssassin, Apache Tomcat, OpenLDAP, MySQL and Postfix. All of these pieces are installed and configured by the Zimbra installer. I tested the second beta version of the software, slated for release this quarter, at our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®, using a Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 server. Fedora Core 3 is also supported.

Administrators manage the server, creating new users, e-mail aliasing and distribution lists through a Web client. You can create multiple administrator accounts, but there's no support for tiered administration. Given that there's a nice big "read mail" button over every user's account on the administration page, it'd be nice to separate administrator accounts and privileges.

Good

• Simple interface
• Group scheduling support Recognizes and acts on certain strings in messages

Bad

• No tiered administration
• No instant messaging support

Zimbra Collaboration Suite Network Edition, starts at $28 per user, per year. Zimbra. www.zimbra.com

I enabled features, such as IMAP access and calendaring, by user, and set password policies, such as minimum password length. I especially appreciated the ability to create preset, modifiable profiles for all users grouped into a class. Settings can be overridden for individual users. Reporting functions are available in the form of message counts, bytes, and antivirus and antispam activity.

Users can connect to the Zimbra system through their existing e-mail and calendaring client programs (a connector for native Microsoft Outlook MAPI support should be available soon). Or they can use the Zimbra AJAX-enabled Web client, which I tested. SMTP authentication is supported for mobile users. The Web client doesn't support Apple Safari or Internet Explorer for the Mac.

A highlight of Zimbra's e-mail capabilities is that it can recognize certain strings in messages and act on them. I received a message with a FedEx tracking number, for example, and Zimbra detected it by parsing the text for that string rather than relying on hyperlinked content. Clicking on the tracking number opened up the FedEx package tracking Web page.

If you hover over the word tomorrow in an e-mail message, you'll get a list of all appointments on the next day's calendar. Hovering over dates does the same. Users can create their own interactions between the software and third-party programs using Web services, according to Zimbra.

RSS feeds can be integrated into the e-mail panel. Each feed shows up as a separate folder but is treated like an e-mail message. Entries can be deleted, moved, forwarded or tagged. Attachments aren't downloaded automatically, however. Podcast links are there but podcasts must be downloaded manually, too, usually to a media player or organizer program. It would be nice to have the option to cache attachments locally.

Zimbra won't replace an established multithousand-user Notes or Exchange environment, but it's not trying to. For smaller environments that want to roll out an integrated e-mail and calendaring product, it's a good and economical fit.

Michael J. DeMaria is a technology editor based at Network Computing's Syracuse University's Real-World Labs®. Write to him at [email protected].

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