Blog Post

Zimbra, EMail Done Right

Zimbra logoFrankly, I am not a big fan of working inside a browser! It is a painful process, which is not a seamless experience, and is risky. At any moment, you could lose all your information. I like using Performancing or WordPress’ editing window, but mostly for very short posts or in state of extreme desperation. I have used Zoho Writer and Writely on occasion, but mostly I use Ecto. In fact, I use it more than Microsoft Word these days; especially for taking notes when interviewing people, and then posting it to a WP install on my desktop.

One application, however, which I like using inside a browser is the Zimbra eMail client. Let me explain why. I subscribe to some high-powered mailing lists such as The Cook Report and David Faber’s Interesting People list. The upside of those lists is cumulative IQ is pretty high. The downside – too many damn emails. In other words, it is hard to keep track of conversations. I use AppleMail desktop client, and often resort to smart folders and conversations to keep track of what is being said. Still, giving the volume of email, it was a bit too much. So I started forwarding the mailing-list messages to a new account – a hosted Zimbra Mail account.

Zimbra screenshotAnd for the first time I get why all of us were so excited about Zimbra. Visually it looks like Microsoft Outlook, but when it comes to behavior, the difference is immense. (Frankly, its interface could do with some tender loving care of a UI guru, but that’s a rant for another day.) For starters, it does everything Outlook does, except in a browser. For instance, you can drag and drop emails and turn them into calendar events, or create appointments, and invite attendees. It senses phone-numbers, turns them into hyperlinks which can be clicked to initiate calls via Skype or SIP based systems. The company has just added added abilities to link directly to an Asterisk PBX system to make outbound calls from within the client.

It can also auto-find addresses, and using a Yahoo Maps (or Google Maps) Zimlet, give you directions to that location. It is ridiculously simple, that I wonder why more email clients don’t have such support. Zimlets, are Zimbra’s version of plugins, or AppleScript, that can help you extend the client’s functionality. I hope someone writes a great little zimlet that would let me blog emails to my WordPress blog.

I would go out on a limb and say that it combines the best of both Microsoft Outlook and Google’s GMail! Plus, Zimbra has this “search and save search feature” that is very much like Apple Mail’s smart mailboxes. (This save search feature also helps the company over come the inherent problem of filing everything away in folders. The conversation view of Zimbra is what really really rocks: it puts everything in context, I can tag it accordingly, for my own use later.

If Outlook is a NFL linebacker, then Zimbra is almost like a quarterback, thinking, and always wondering about the next play.

Satish Dharmraj, the chief executive and founder of the company recently emailed me a sync-software that utilizes Apple’s built in SyncServices to sync iCal and Address Book information with Zimbra’s service. The software is still in alpha, but worked nicely for me. This is a big short coming of most webmail and calendaring services especially Apple’s dot.mac, which despite its hefty price tag, doesn’t have two-way calendaring.

Zimbra calendar

Can you believe Apple – they can put a video in the iPod, switch from PowerPC to Intel, but can’t make calendaring easy! Yahoo calendar and email works, but doesn’t sync with the desktop! What about wireless devices? Satish says that within days we might have a SyncML add-on which would allow the service to sync with SyncML-ready phones like Nokia 9300. I hope this support can be extended to Microsoft Mobile Windows-based devices. The reason I don’t switch to a Cingular 8125 device, which I really like is because of limited syncing with Mac, and lackluster IMAP support.

Not that Zimbra isn’t without its faults. It doesn’t work on Safari, or it is a resource hog, and take a long time to load in your browser. Think of this as a constantly updated review – I will keep updating as I come across new features. Meanwhile, read Tom Bridge’s review of Zimbra. He agrees with my assessment of the product.

21 Responses to “Zimbra, EMail Done Right”

  1. I’ve tried Zimbra Desktop, and the look isn’t that impressive, but the feel is OK (seems quite slow, though).

    My major issue with it is that it doesn’t seem to understand Gmail’s tags. It has its own tags, but it interprets Gmail tags as directories, and ends up with half a dozen copies of every email. As a result, it doesn’t handle ‘read’ vs ‘not read’ very wel, and I don’t even want to think about what happens when you try to move an email from one directory to another.

    Plus, why aren’t Zimbra’s tags global across accounts? A tag created under one account doesn’t appear on another.

  2. Gary Jones

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  3. As a technology consultant, I’m constantly trying to find the the best solutions for my customers who are mostly small/midsize businesses around 5-50 seats. Almost every single customer that was already using Exchange was a perfect match for Zimbra. Some of my customers needed tons of control over active directory and email so Zimbra wasn’t the best choice over Exchange, but for the rest, Zimbra was PERFECT!

    When a client of mine wants hosted, I always shoot them to
    I’ve used before but I quite like the personal support you get from SpecialAI. One thing SpecialAI does that I don’t see from any other solution provider is a Fully Managed Zimbra product. This means that not only do they hosted your email, but they’ll provide unlimited administration of your user population plus they provide full help desk support for end users. This is something that most large businesses will definitely need should they decide to outsource email.

    If you’re looking for a hosted Zimbra solution, let me encourage you to simply drop them a line. You’ll either find exactly what you’re looking for, or learn a whole lot more than you previously knew about Zimbra. Oh, did I mention that they give you direct contact with the engineer who actually works on your account! Only an in-house IT department can give you that type of service.

    • I stumbled on your blog article while looking for more information on the upcoming Zimbra 6 and would like to let you know while I do not use for Zimbra hosting, they have been contracted to manage our company’s california Zimbra server remotely for the last couple years, and have done fine upgrading/monitoring it for us.

      A quick search of their website also seems to indicate their Zimbra cloud hosted solution is “fully managed,” and provides support to the end-user, too (an option we chose for the first year with, even on our own, remotely maintained server). I have heard good things about Perceeva, among other Zimbra host partners, for a list visit Zimbra’s site:

  4. David


    We’re looking at hosted Zimbra solutions for a small group — just two people — but we do need to share calendars, address books, etc.

    I see your hosted Zimbra is $7/seat. Where are you getting yours service? How is it working?


  5. I have to say, I agree with the review. I have both a GMail account (for over a year), and now a hosted Zimbra account, and … Zimbra is what GMail will be like when it grows up.

    GMail is where I learned to like the “conversation” view – but in Zimbra, I can toggle it back and forth with the “view” drop down, and drag emails around if I want to organize them. Also, Zimbra’s search indexes your attachments – MS Word, PDF, etc, and you can do one search that goes thru your contacts, calendar items and emails (with attachments), all at once.

    GMail is just now adding a calendar… Of course, GMail is free, and my Zimbra account is $7.00 per month (pretty close to free.. 2 x latte at Starbucks!). But the main difference to me is this – for a personal email account, GMail is great.

    But if you are trying to collaborate with other people, being able to look them up by name (partial match, etc), in the GAL (Global Address List), which everybody in your company shares (assuming your company uses Zimbra), makes this a business tool. I can share my calendar with the (2 other) people in my company, sync everything with Outlook (and I use a PocketPC phone, which then syncs with Outlook).

    Anyway – I think it rocks – and am looking forward to seeing Zimlets that integrate with other tools, like accounting packages, etc. I’m not knocking GMail, but if you’re a company, you don’t want to use GMail as your company messaging system.

  6. KarmaDude… I will have to agree that Zimbra still has some rough-edges but its still 3 months old so, we can give some benefit of doubt.
    Although some of them are already present in gmail.. there are tons of things that are not present(yet) ..just as an example… It cant call land-lines.. it doesnt have a powerful Calendar, contacts etc features…

    check out what others are saying..

  7. Frank I have played with the online demo of Zimbra, and yes, I know it has conversations, filters and labels. What I am talking about it is the way it functions, and the usability of it.

    I am not sure if you have used gmail, but you can compare against gmail to see what I mean.

  8. Frank Baldwin

    KarmaDude, have you used Zimbra? You wrote “I now forward everything to gmail, and use a combination of filters and labels to organize things, and everytime I have to use outlook at work, I cringe!! And that’s how I felt when I tried to use Zimbra.” Zimbra has conversations, filters and labels — what is it you’re missing then?

  9. If you want read you email on the go the best solution may be to just purchase a Hosted Exchange account(from $3.99 to $12.99/month), here you can access your email via OWA(Outlook Web Access), OMA (Outlook Mobile Access), or directly on a laptop, computer, or Windows Mobile Device, and always stay in synch with your email. Great for triaging email from a mobile device. If one of your devices goes down or you switch devices your email, contacts,etc are all safe and easily accessible, up to date and always in synch.

    Some good third parties are Mailstreet and 4Smartphone and some even offer free trial offers.

  10. I am a more online email user and don’t use the calendar a lot, so gmail is perfect for me.

    As for Zimbra, I was not too impressed, the interface is ok, but does not even come close to how gmail handles conversations and organizes email by labels. And now with talk integrated into gmail, there is a whole new way of emailing.

    I now forward everything to gmail, and use a combination of filters and labels to organize things, and everytime I have to use outlook at work, I cringe!! And that’s how I felt when I tried to use Zimbra.

    But I can see how offline email users, users who require a calendar, and users who are used to an Outlook style of interface loving Zimbra.

  11. i have been using it exclusively for past one month and i have to say, there is nothing in there which makes me feel i am using a web mail application. so that is why i think this is going to catch on,

  12. Zimbra is impressive but I still don’t see a lot of people switching to web-based email for day-to-day use in a big way.

    Could a lot of those effects be added in to Outlook by Microsoft or add-ons?

    The Zimbra server, however, looks very interesting but they don’t seem to talk about it much.

  13. Another solution with similar functionality is
    which already has builten support for syncml syncronization.

    And regardings support for Windows Mobile – you could search for pocketpc syncml client softtware which allows to synchronze with syncml servers.