What’s in a name… try $350 Million

// September 26th, 2007 // Collaboration, Email, Web 2.0

Yahoo recently purchased Zimbra for $350 million. This a great example of good things happening to good products. For those who don’t know, Zimbra is an open source Email, Calendar and file collaboration suite that is simply amazing. They have an AJAX based UI that is simple, elegant and IMHO knocks the socks off of Outlook. This package has everything, from simple administration to sophisticated add-on (called Zimlets) that expand functionality.

Last year, I was researching Email options and took a very serious look at Zimbra and was very impressed by what I discovered. There are similar Open Source products for Email, such as Scalix but for my money, I think Zimbra has a slight edge.

I’ve looked at apps like Zimbra and Scalix as Exchange killers, and indeed they are. However, what Yahoo has done with this move is potentially a Google Apps (or at least Gmail) killer. As an avid user of Gmail and Gmail calendars, I can say with confidence that the Zimbra interface blows gmail away. In fact, I don’t use the Gmail web interface if I could help it, I use my Outlook client, as it efficiently married my Email, Contacts (which I use a lot), and Calendars in to one nice interface. I use Outlook because there is nothing better out there, that is until now. If I could get the Zimbra UI on my Yahoo mail, I’d switch from Google in a heart beat.

So as much as this is good news for both Yahoo and the folks at Zimbra who are now suddenly a lot richer, this is great news for the internet community as a whole. It’s free enterprise at it’s best and positions Yahoo to provide real competition to the Google quasi-monopoly. What would make it even more interesting is if MSN where to scoop up Scalix and be a 3rd contender. Or why not have the tail wag the dog and have Scalix acquire or partner with  some of the Office 2.0 companies out there and be the 3rd alternative.

4 Responses to “What’s in a name… try $350 Million”

  1. Dan K. says:

    I believe that Scalix’s web interface is based on an old rev of the Oddpost client. Oddpost got bought by Yahoo! a while back and is now the basis for the new Yahoo! Mail beta interface. I’m not sure what source/sale/distribution rights Scalix has to their web UI and whether Yahoo! could block a sale to Microsoft…

  2. bwhite says:

    Thanks Dan, interesting bit of background info. I suppose Yahoo could maybe clock the sale to Microsoft, but I don’t think that would deter Microsoft. And don’t forget the MS Marketing Machine has successfully sold us inferior software before.

    I have no doubt that Yahoo benefit by the Zimbra purchase. Great product and the potential to lure many converts from GMail, MSN and others. Congrats!

  3. Jeremy says:

    Our big question is how will the purchase of Zimbra by Yahoo! impact both the open source version of Zimbra and the support for it’s Enterprise system. We are seriously looking at Zimbra as well to install at the University. We had been hoping to go open source but we are a Solaris shop and Zimbra only seems to be running on Linux at the moment. Not sure if we want to blaze a trail on a new platform with something as important as email for 80,000 users. But is Yahoo! going to continue to sell Zimbra licenses and support packages or are they going to want to keep this for themselves, as a Google killer like you say? Privacy concerns mean that whatever solution we go with, it has to run on our local servers, we can’t store personal information on U.S. machines that are subject to the Patriot Act.

  4. bwhite says:

    Good question, with unfortunately not a good answer. If Yahoo is smart, then they’ll maintain the Open Source version of Zimbra AND use it to drive their online web mail service. This way they get the best of both worlds. No doubt the two versions would evolve to be different over time, because Yahoo won’t want to make available to competitors a version that will drive millions of users, potentially away from Yahoo.

    In the short term, I think the Open Source version is still viable, and if worse comes to worse, you’ll end up with a stagnant version that will still probably last you 5 years before you out grow it. As well, there is also the distinct possibility that some group of enterprising techies will take the latest (or last) version of Zimbra and start a new open source project. There are countless examples in the open source world where differing opinions on the direction a particular project should take has resulted in two or more different projects born from the same base source code.

    As for worrying about whether or not to use Linux, IMHO it’s a none issue. Linux is UNIX with it’s own set of idiosyncrasies, but if you are smart enough to run Solaris, you are smart enough to figure out Linux. In fact, it would probably be in your best interest to get some experience with Linux, as it would open the door to a multitude applications that will not run on Solaris. The days of a shop running one and only one OS are over, or at least numbered.

    The privacy concerns are somewhat legit, but moot if you run the open source version on your own servers. Also there are companies out there whose business model is based on selling you Zimbra running on their servers, so just find one with servers in Canada, if you don’t what to house it yourself.

    Now having said all that, there is a truism present in almost all large organizations that says “No one ever got fired for buying X”, where X at one time was IBM and later Microsoft. The corollary here is that it takes a degree of intestinal fortitude to buck the popular trends, and with the future of the open source version of Zimbra in limbo, it would definitely be bucking the popular trend.

    So, like I said, no simple answer, but it’s questions like this that make the IT world exciting 🙂

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