Zimbra Collaboration Suite, Version 4.5

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Zimbra exploits Ajax for a compelling Web groupware experience.

When working with this sort of application, it's not unusual to check your e-mail, then switch to calendar view to confirm your free time, and then go back to your e-mail again. Zimbra can recognize strings inside your e-mail messages, such as a phone number or a date. Figure 3 shows me looking at an e-mail message in which the sender is asking whether I'm free for a particular date. Zimbra recognizes that this is a date and informs me of my availability for that time slot.

Figure 3. No need to switch from your e-mail to your calendar. Zimbra gives you the information you need, inline.

If the time slot is free, there's no need to switch to calendar view here either—simply right-click on the date, select New Appointment and then enter the details. It's wonderfully simple and intuitive.

It gets better. Zimbra also is able to recognize other contextual information (highlighted in blue), such as the word tomorrow, or even multiple words, such as next Wednesday. The program then checks your calendar for you when you hover over the word (or words). Zimbra also understands addresses and phone numbers, highlighting them as well. If it sees a phone number, Zimbra offers to launch a telephony program such as Skype or Ekiga. Hover over an e-mail address, and Zimbra looks up that contact in your address book and floats a pop-up with that person's contact information. No need to leave your e-mail and switch to your address book to call your client.

The user experience is enriched further with built-in antispam and antivirus tools, smart folders, RSS subscriptions and, of course, zimlets.

Zimlets

When you hover over a time in an e-mail message and a pop-up alerts you of your appointments for that time, you're seeing the work of a zimlet. A zimlet can launch Skype when you hover over a phone number. A few important zimlets are included in a default Zimbra installation, but there are several of which you might not immediately be aware, ranging from extremely useful to amusing distractions. When you install (or deploy) these extra zimlets, they appear in your sidebar, right above your mini-calendar.

Some of the extra zimlets are worth exploring. In addition to the phone dialer (which uses Skype by default), there's also a zimlet that takes advantage of an Asterisk VoIP system. Deploy the Yahoo! Maps zimlet, and Zimbra recognizes addresses embedded in text and pops up a street map when you hover over the address. This function didn't catch all address strings I tested, but you can enter the address manually by clicking on the zimlet. There's a Wikipedia zimlet and a Google translator zimlet as well (Figure 4). Simply drag a message onto the Google translator zimlet, select a language and click OK.

Figure 4. No cutting and pasting required for translations. Simply drag a message onto the Google Translator zimlet.

As much as I hate to admit it, the zimlet I wasted far too much time on is the arcade zimlet (call it a nostalgia trip). Several classic arcade games are included to provide some much-needed diversion. After all, all work and no play does not necessarily translate into increased productivity. Spend a few minutes blasting Asteroids, helping Frogger cross the street, saving the Earth from the evil Space Invaders or de-stress with a little game of Pac-Man (Figure 5).

Figure 5. How about a little downtime with a classic game of Pac Man?

There are also zimlets for traffic reports (letting your employees know when it's a good time to go home or what areas to avoid), and zimlets for Amazon.com sales, tracking flights, booking travel arrangements, looking up the status of an order or package, sending short messages (SMS) to a cell phone and more.

Zimlets can be installed manually (via the command line) or through the graphical Zimbra administrative interface, which I would recommend. The administrative interface is as well designed as the user interface but provides access to different functions. These include reporting and system statistics, user maintenance, global address lists, aliases, as well as server, site and domain configuration. Settings related to security are configured here as well. For instance, you may want to block out attachments with certain extensions, such as .BAT, .EXE, .VBS and so on (Figure 6).

Figure 6. The administrative interface lets you reject messages whose attachments have questionable extensions.

The administrative interface also provides download links to migration tools for Exchange and Lotus Domino servers. There's also a download there to help you import information from PST files.

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