May 6, 2007 9:00 PM PDT

Comcast picks Zimbra for online e-mail

Broadband and cable TV company Comcast has hired open-source software company Zimbra to power a service called SmartZone that provides subscribers with e-mail and other online services.

Zimbra's software provides a Web-based interface for e-mail, calendars, contact lists and instant messaging. SmartZone, geared for "triple play" customers who pay Comcast for TV, Internet and phone communications services, is scheduled to start arriving later this year, Comcast said in a statement.

Also involved in the deal are contact-organizing company Plaxo, which is set to supply software that permits subscribers to synchronize and manage their address books, and Hewlett-Packard, which plans to build and operate Comcast's service.

Zimbra zing

Other partners are Bizanga, to protect against e-mail abuse, Cloudmark, to screen out e-mail spam and prevent so-called phishing scams, and Trend Micro for antivirus software.

Although Zimbra sells its software to companies for their own operations--chiefly as an alternative to Microsoft Exchange--the company also targets Internet service providers.

The Comcast deal could be significant for the company, which sells its software on the basis of how many mailboxes its customers set up. The company has more than 6 million paid mailboxes so far, said John Robb, vice president of marketing and product development. One customer currently accounts for more than 1 million of those mailboxes, and Zimbra's hope is that the Comcast deal could be bigger than that.

"This has the opportunity to be one of the most exciting things we've done," Robb said.

Comcast's move is an endorsement of the software of a relatively young and small company. Zimbra, founded in 2004, has about 100 employees, more than half of them developers, Robb said.

Terms of the deal with Zimbra weren't disclosed. The SmartZone communications center will be available to more than 12 million Internet access customers, as well as to those using Comcast's Digital Voice phone service, according to the Comcast statement.

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Don't Get Marooned On A PIM Island
It's great that Comcast and other broadband VSPs(c) (Virtual Service Providers) are starting to offer customers access to rich, web-based information management applications for email, calendars, voicemail, etc. Having access to this type of personal information management (PIM) console, via the web is helpful.

Beware getting marooned on a PIM island though! The VSPs want you to be their customer for life, regardless of potential rate hikes. They know the best way to do this is to make you loyal (locked in) to the services they offer.

Make sure that any web-based PIM you embrace has the ability to easily import and export or synchronize your contact, email, task, calendar and other PIM data. Keeping a current backup copy of this data in Outlook or a PDA is always a good idea.

Small businesses will want to take a look at products like TeamPro(r). Having access to true work group collaboration features like shared calendaring, scheduling and tasks as well as shared secure virtual file folders can provide a huge productivity boost for any company with multiple offices and staff on the go.
Posted by westrajc (78 comments )
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