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29 July 2008, 10:27

Competition for Thunderbird and Outlook from Zimbra

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Zimbra, makers of the groupware server of the same name, has released its third beta version of Zimbra Desktop. It offers email, calendar, address book, to-do lists and other personal information management tools, and runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

Zimbra Desktop is based, in part, on Mozilla Prism. Prism allows web applications to behave more like desktop applications by displaying an application in a dedicated browsing window, rather than just opening a page in the default desktop browser. Prism strips away the browser "chrome" (the toolbars and address bars) leaving a clean simple window for the web application to display. But Zimbra Desktop is not a web application in that sense; rather than connect to a remote web application, within the package is a Java based web application server and database to which the Prism browser window connects.

This combination can be resource hungry and occasionally sluggish, but that can be attributed to the fact it is still in beta, after being announced in March. Despite this, Zimbra Desktop is a rich email client with good coverage of the expected features in a modern mail application.

The UI is a classic three pane interface, one pane for folders, one pane for listing the mail in the selected folder and one pane showing the contents of the currently selected mail. The Yahoo branding is prominent on Zimbra Desktop, since Zimbra are now a subsidiary of Yahoo, but in other places the Zimbra brand is used, which can be slightly confusing, but no impediment to the functionality.

Once installed, Zimbra Desktop offers quick setup screens for Zimbra's own mail servers, Yahoo Mail, Gmail and AOL, or a slightly more complicated generic POP/IMAP screen. Once configured, Zimbra Desktop feels like a local version of Yahoo's Mail. Incoming mail can be tagged and filtered into folders using mail filter rules. The search system can search all the data held in the server, from the full text of emails to to-do items, and sports a powerful search builder if needed. Calendar data can be imported from iCal formatted web calendars. When connected to a Zimbra mail server, the Zimbra groupware features are activated, giving the desktop application the ability to synchronise mail, calendar and contacts.


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