Zimbra Collaboration Suite, Version 4.5
Well, yes. Browser support could be a little better, but it covers the majority of browsers and certainly the most popular. I personally would like to see Konqueror supported and Opera as well. Some of the zimlets didn't always do what they were supposed to do—for example, the Yahoo! Maps zimlet sometimes highlighted addresses and sometimes didn't. Even there, I could double-click on the zimlet, enter the address manually, and it would come up.
The biggest negative, in my opinion, had to do with getting Zimbra up and running in the first place. The command-line text-install process feels a little last-century to me. Not that there's anything wrong with the command line—you're looking at one of the great proponents of the command line's power and flexibility. Nevertheless, having the installation shell script terminate to tell me I need another package, then having to restart it to discover I needed something else (then having it terminate again), is far from ideal.
Then comes the configuration part of the text install where parts of the dialog scroll off the screen. Sure, I can scroll back, but why not make it fit on a screen? Heck, a Web interface that assisted you in dealing with any prerequisite or configuration issues should be easy for a company that can come up with such a slick client interface.
I blame most of my installation problems on that inflexible text-only script. Before finding myself with a finished product, I ran three different installations. I tried the first install on my own production system, assuming (falsely) that I could run Zimbra concurrently—a bad move that took my own e-mail and Web services off-line for a few hours. To be fair, I can't really blame Zimbra here, because I should not have been doing that on a production system, but I often install and test software on my production systems without any problems. A simple warning that Zimbra's Postfix and Apache servers would occupy the same network space as mine (and that I might want to reconsider) would have stopped me in my tracks.
Eventually, I chose another clean system for my installation, and it just plain refused to finish. The generic error message told me nothing. Because it was a supported release, I tried again, re-installing (as opposed to upgrading), and everything worked perfectly. Why? This was the same system where it failed a few minutes before, so I don't have a good explanation.
When I finally got Zimbra installed, it was such a great experience I almost forgot about my installation headaches—almost.
Zimbra is a free and open-source package, but it also offers commercial packages and support. The Network Edition offers full commercial support plus additional, value-added features. For instance, clustering, including advanced backup and recovery features, and a powerful attachment search function, aren't part of the Open Source Edition. Neither are the Outlook MAPI and Apple iSync connectors; for these, you need the Network Edition. Over-the-air mobile synchronization (Simbian, Treo and Windows mobile phones with no additional software required on the handset) is another such value-add. Blackberry support is available through a third party. (Note to RIM—it would be really, really great if there were a general-purpose API for BEZ synchronization.)
The Zimbra Collaboration Suite is available for a variety of distributions and platforms. If packages for your particular distribution aren't available, Zimbra provides source so you can compile your own. Both Network and Open Source Editions are released at the same time. Zimbra doesn't want the installation to be different, regardless of whether it is the Network or Open Source Edition. Even so, only a few major distributions (such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) are supported for the Network Edition. If you are interested in the Network Edition, you may, for the time being, want to stick with the Open Source Edition.
If yours is one of the supported Network Edition platforms, I recommend that you download the Network Edition first. A free, 60-day trial is included, which provides you with all the Network Edition features. If you choose not to continue with the Network Edition after the 60-day period expires, your Zimbra Collaboration Suite automatically returns to the Open Source Edition, and you'll have lost nothing.
Prices for the Network Edition are reasonable, starting at $25 US per user, per year. Special discounted rates are available for educational institutions, governments and nonprofits.
Color me impressed! The Zimbra Collaboration Suite is a fantastic product and well worth your consideration. Working with Zimbra's polished Ajax client is a pleasure, and even the Open Source Edition is feature-rich. Some of the zimlets, though imperfect (such as the Yahoo! Maps zimlet), still provide a great improvement to the standard groupware experience.
Installation, on the other hand, could be a lot smoother, and I'd like to see more distributions supported in the Network Edition, but these installation-time issues don't affect the user experience.
If you don't need the features provided by the Network Edition, the price for Zimbra is certainly right, offering a great deal of functionality without the cost. If you want to take advantage of the Zimbra features but don't want to do the hosting on your own, Zimbra provides a list of hosting partners at www.zimbra.com/partners/zimbra_hosting.html. The main Zimbra site is www.zimbra.com.
Marcel Gagné is an award-winning writer living in Waterloo, Ontario. He is the author of the all-new Moving to Free Software, his sixth book from Addison-Wesley. He also makes regular television appearances as Call for Help's Linux guy. Marcel is also a pilot, a former Top-40 disc jockey, writes science fiction and fantasy, and folds a mean Origami T-Rex. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can discover lots of other things (including great Wine links) from his Web site at www.marcelgagne.com.
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