Zimbra: Gmail and Exchange meet Open Source, Java and AJAX

Zimbra is either the coolest thing I’ve seen this month, or too good to be true. I haven’t decided which yet.

Previously known as Liquid Systems, Zimbra is the new name of the company, as well as its flagship product: an extensible open-source client/server system for managing email, contacts, and calendaring that can be accessed with either a slick, cross-browser, AJAX-powered user interface, or via desktop applications like Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird/Sunbird, Apple Mail/iCal, and others.

The server that powers all this, Zimbra Collaboration Server, is written in Java, and sits upon familiar open source components like a MySQL database, a Postfix Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) (with SpamAssassin and ClamAV for anti-spam and anti-virus by default) and a Tomcat Web Application Server.

Although the services provided by Zimbra (mail, contacts, and calendaring) are all accessible with desktop applications (see above) via the open standards that exist for these things, Zimbra also provides its own cross-browser, AJAX-laden, Web-based user interface. This UI supports many of Zimbra’s “extra” features, such as message tagging, unified search, email rendering plug-ins (e.g. linking your company’s invoice numbers to your order tracking system when they appear in email messages, or integrating services like Google Maps, Skype, and Alexa), and more. All of these features come with open APIs so that desktop clients may be enhanced to take advantage of them, but for now the full power of Zimbra is best accessed through the Web client interface.

In short, Zimbra is Microsoft Exchange and Gmail rewritten in Java using open source technology… all free, cross-browser, and cross-platform.

I think I’ll have a play with the current beta version for my personal email (which I currently download at home and access at work using an Outlook-to-IMAP gateway), and if it lives up to its promise with reasonable scalability, we might just move SitePoint’s email over to the system.

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