May 3, 2007 7:05 PM PDT

Zimbra to offer Ubuntu Linux support

SAN MATEO, Calif.--Spurred by customer demand, Zimbra has completed a version of its open-source calendar and e-mail server software for Canonical's Ubuntu version of Linux.

Zimbra offers two versions of its server software, the free Open-Source Edition and the certified, supported and fuller-feature derivative called the Network Edition for paying customers. The Network Edition previously was available just for Red Hat's Linux, Novell's Suse Linux and Mac OS X, but now the company has added Ubuntu to the list.

"We're seeing real business using Ubuntu," Zimbra Chief Executive Satish Dharmaraj said Thursday in an interview at the start-up's headquarters here. The Ubuntu version is available now, though Zimbra doesn't plan to formally announce it until later this month.

For downloads of the free version, Ubuntu has tied Red Hat in popularity at 18 percent, he said, and for the beta Network Edition, Ubuntu was in second place with a significant fraction of Red Hat's popularity.

"While the focus of Ubuntu has been around desktop use, Canonical is also positioning Ubuntu as a server play. Zimbra's support of Ubuntu is yet another sign that customers are looking at Ubuntu as a server platform, as well," said Raven Zachary, analyst at The 451 Group.

The partnership links two allies in the effort to make a business out of open-source software--a complicated undertaking given that the underlying software can be obtained for free. Many rules change when it comes to open-source software, but one that has remained constant is a preference for assurances provided by software that's supported and certified to work with other products.

Canonical won another major partnership earlier this week under which Dell will begin selling two desktop PC models and one laptop model with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled later this month.

Canonical Chief Executive Mark Shuttleworth said partnerships with software and hardware companies are essential. "We're nothing without them," he said.

Partnerships with established server software companies such as Oracle and SAP are necessary, but it's vastly easier to work with other open-source companies, he said.

"The large, established company is not where the innovation happens or where the growth happens," Shuttleworth said. And unlike fellow open-source companies, the established powers need to be trained in basic open-source practices such as frequent rebuilds of software, transparency, and appropriate methods for packaging software for installation.

With open-source allies, Shuttleworth said, "it's cheaper for us to get to a productive point with both companies selling support."

Zimbra's server software is Java-based software that competes chiefly with Microsoft Exchange. People who need to access it to use e-mail, calendars and contact lists can use a basic Web browser interface or a fancier Ajax-based interface. Alternatively, more conventional e-mail software such as Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird also work.

Zimbra also has released software that lets people using the Web browser work even when not connected to the network. The browser communicates with a small "microserver," a Java application that stands in place of the proper Zimbra server software and synchronizes e-mail, contacts and calendar items when network access is restored, said John Robb, vice president of marketing.

The client software competes with two major open-source alternatives, Thunderbird and the Gnome Project's Evolution. Shuttleworth said that if it becomes popular enough, Ubuntu's desktop version could switch from its current Evolution default to Zimbra's client.

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