Comcast picks Zimbra for online e-mail

Cable and Internet giant picks smaller open-source company for subscribers' Web-based communication site. Images: Comcast gets Zimbra zing

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.

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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