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What money can't buy, in software or football

Is Zimbra the Arsenal of software?

Class. That is as evident in software as it is in football (soccer, for those unfortunate enough to endure the NFL). I read this today about my club, Arsenal, and it made me think of Zimbra:

Arsenal showed London rivals Chelsea, beaten Champions League opponents Sevilla and anyone else who is remotely interested, what soccer class was all about on Wednesday.

A day after Chelsea played out a drab 1-1 draw with Rosenborg Trondheim in their opening Champions League match in front of less than 25,000 unhappy fans at Stamford Bridge, matters were rather different across London at the Emirates Stadium.

While Arsenal were oozing class in their 3-0 demolition of Sevilla in their opening Champions league tie in front of 60,000 fans, Chelsea were imploding with coach Jose Mourinho leaving the club after one bust-up too many with billionaire owner Roman Abramovitch....

[O]n the evidence both on and off the pitch this week, Arsenal have regained their dominant position not only in London, but also possibly in England....[and] it will take something special to stop them ruling Europe by the end of the season.

Lots of companies can raise $30 million, as Zimbra did. Few, however, can grow with as much class and hipness as Zimbra did. This, in part, can be attributed to its open-source credentials. But a lot of it is just how the company managed itself and its image.

It's easy to point to Chelsea-esque software companies and say that they'll always win because they have more money, more overpriced players/employees, etc. But Arsenal shows that you can build superstars, rather than buy them, and that money is something you earn in a successful business, not something you spend.

Zimbra has class. That's one reason it's worth $350 million on $6 million in 2006 bookings. The question will be whether Yahoo! can assimilate that class into its own offerings, or whether it simply tries to go through the motions of adopting the mechanics of Zimbra's business model. Superficiality won't work.