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Who will use Zimbra?

VMware is putting together its applications portfolio piece by piece, including Zimbra email and collaboration software. But who’s going to use Zimbra?

The most well known Zimbra customer is Comcast, which uses the software for its Internet subscribers’ online email. So all those people get a taste, whether they like it or not. And of course, VMware has embraced Zimbra internally.

At last week’s New England VMware User Group meeting, I approached an attendee using Zimbra on his laptop — thinking, in my excitement, that it was a regular old user. It turned out to be Peter Marcotte, Northeast systems engineering manager at VMware.

Marcotte said that even he, like most of VMware’s customers, was wary of Zimbra at first. But it does have some nifty features. First, there’s what they call “briefcases,” which are similar to Google Docs in that you can store files and share access with other users.

In the calendar feature, you can upload other people’s schedules to view in tandem with your own or in a group — a useful tool for a manager who wants to keep track of employees at any given moment or compare schedules, Marcotte said. You can also sync Zimbra with your cell phone, so when you update contact information in one place, it automatically updates in the other.

Zimbra might not have the most attractive interface, but these and other features are organized into easily accessible tabs, much like the favorite tabs you’d add in a Web browser. With these, you can move quickly from an email, to a contact, to Joe Schmoe’s 2 p.m. activities.

The real question with Zimbra is: What makes it different from Microsoft Exchange and Outlook? Zimbra seems easy to use, but is it that much easier than what Microsoft has? And although the features that bring document sharing and mobile integration are somewhat enticing, many organizations have yet to embrace this social, collaborative method of computing — what VMware calls “the new way to work.”

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