Product update: Zimbra takes online calendaring offline

Zimbra continues to boost its offline capabilities, this time with calendaring. Why can't Microsoft offer this sort of innovation? Well, because it has a financial incentive to lock-in customers, not liberate them.

Zimbra has now made a great product even better. Determined to help "fat-client Luddites" like me, Zimbra has released the second version of its Ajax, offline client, Zimbra Desktop. First it was email offline, and now the calendar works offline, too. This may well be the the first major web application to go offline.

Who cares? Well, I do, and not because of Zimbra's open source credentials. The primary value I see in Zimbra is an enterprise-class email server that treats Macs and Linux as first-class citizens, rather than as an afterthought. Alfresco is now roughly 50% Mac (with ~80% in our US team preferring the Mac). So, it's not about religion - it's about requirements.

It's also important because I don't want a loose affiliation of also-rans bundled into a suite. I want to buy the best of breed and have it all work together. Microsoft recently changed its pricing strategy on Outlook to bundle it with Office. You can't get it free with Exchange anymore. Why? To drive demand for Office. Fine, but I don't want to be forced into decisions that are optimized for the vendor, and not for me as a customer.

Jason Maynard of Credit-Suisse highlighted this "cross-selling" as a primary Microsoft strategy in a research note today:

We buy into the notion that the company can drive healthy unit growth and execute an up sell and cross sell strategy into premium priced products and complimentary offerings....[Office Communicator Server] a great example of how a cross sell opportunity could drive a few incremental points of revenue growth since it pulls through so many complimentary SKUs. Our view on the emerging businesses is less bullish since they have yet to establish material leadership in any category and profitability is still somewhat elusive.

In other words, Microsoft's strategy is to use its pillars of strength to drag in its second- or third-place products. Good for Microsoft. Not so good for customers.

So, back to Zimbra. Its Desktop product is still in Alpha, but I spent an hour today using it as my email/collaboration suite, and was deeply impressed. I still wish that Zimbra would get rid of the browser UI/artifacts (or make it an option - it would be trivial for the company to do this). But that's a relatively small quibble. The big deal here is that I'm getting a superior email experience for my Mac. Nice to be treated with respect again.

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