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.