Zimbra Desktop: A Closer Look at Yahoo’s New E-mail Offering

Following our release day editorial on Yahoo’s Zimbra Desktop, we thought we’d take a more in-depth look at the program and its features. The e-mail client, of course, is Zimbra’s first major effort since the company’s $350 million acquisition by Yahoo last year. As would be expected, it marks a clear step in Yahoo’s attempt to gain ground in the e-mail market.

Zimbra’s main selling points are its abilities to manage conversation-based threads as well as to incorporate tags into e-mail, to allow for advanced search capabilities, and to allow for the incorporation of so-called “Zimlets” — or third-party applications — into the e-mail client. As such, it’s been described as a Gmail-meets-Outlook type of solution, or a setup similar to an Outlook-plus-Xobni configuration. Its creators recognize the comparisons but say their program does bring something new to the table.

Client Comparisons

Like Outlook or Thunderbird, Zimbra aggregates mail from different services into one centralized, client-based platform. All three have IMAP capabilities. While Outlook is limited to Windows-based systems, Zimbra — like Thunderbird — is open source and available on Mac or Linux platforms as well.

The bigger benefit, its creators say, lies more in Zimbra’s ability to bring traditionally server-based options — the ones you see in Gmail — to a locally-based application.

“Until now, [things such as] search indexing have been a property of a mail server,” Zimbra co-founder and CEO Satish Dharmaraj told The Inquisitr. “We wanted to just bring that in.”

With both search indexing and conversation-based threads, Zimbra’s programmers see the common ground with Gmail. They point out, however, that their platform delivers the options online or off — and without you having to be logged into a web-based system.

“[It’s] exactly like Gmail,” Dharmaraj explained. “Whatever Gmail’s doing on the server side, now we’re doing it from a desktop angle. You can collapse threads, delete an entire thread, tag an entire thread, or file an entire thread to a folder.”

Talking Xobni

So what about Xobni, the Outlook add-on that offers some of those same functions? The folks behind Zimbra are aware of the overlap but say it is not absolute.

“You can use Xobni on top of Outlook and get some of those things,” Dharmaraj told The Inquisitr. “But [it] does not bring the notion of conversations, does not bring the notion of Zimlets. You can’t delete an entire conversation that dealt with [a] subject, because that becomes a server-side operation,” he said.

The Yahoo Factor

There’s no question Yahoo’s influence and its competition with Google have played a part in Zimbra’s development since the acquisition. The Zimbra team, in fact, has spent the last year helping Yahoo play catch up with advanced e-mail functionality and deployment.

“Yahoo was nowhere in the scene — [it was] basically Google, Zimbra, and Microsoft. When Yahoo bought us, they bought an entry into mailboxes that are hosted by ISPs, by EDUs for students. We definitely brought them into those markets,” Dharmaraj noted.

Future Focus

Zimbra’s focus now is on finding ways to bring its features into the Yahoo Mail brand and begin expanding its capabilities.

“Search, Zimlets, conversation, and tags — everybody liked Zimbra because it helped in productivity because of those four things. What we’re doing is bringing those four things to non-Zimbra backing,” Dharmaraj said.

Projects in the works include an eventual full integration of Zimbra into Yahoo Mail, plus expanded options for synchronization — and what Zimbra hopes will be an online first.

“Later on this year, we’re bringing the Zimbra Calendar to Yahoo Calendar, so consumers will get probably the first CalDAV-enabled, iCal-enabled calendar client that’s out there,” Dharmaraj revealed.

“Hopefully — if Google doesn’t launch before that,” he added.