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Now Yahoo's, Zimbra takes mail and documents offline

Zimbra releases an update to its collaboration suite that pushes the limits of Web applications for consumers and businesses.

At Zimbra, the game plan remains largely the same, even after consumer Web giant Yahoo acquired the company last year for $350 million. But what happens if Microsoft succeeds in its acquisition of Yahoo?

Zimbra on Tuesday will release a new version of its e-mail and collaboration software, with features for reading mail and creating documents offline from a Web browser.

Zimbra Documents lets people create and share documents and mashups from a browser. Zimbra

Zimbra Collaboration Suite 5.0 also adds support for BlackBerry clients and Java 2 mobile-equipped phones and now has integrated instant messaging.

The features were part of Zimbra's product plans before Yahoo acquired it and its business plan remains largely the same, according to Satish Dharmaraj, Zimbra co-founder and now Yahoo vice president.

While Yahoo Mail is aimed primarily at consumers, Zimbra sells its server software to universities, businesses, and Internet service providers. Not counting a deal with Comcast last year, it has 11 million people using its software, said Dharmaraj.

"My charter and business objective inside Yahoo is to spread as wide a net as possible for Zimbra in ISPs, .edu's (educational organizations), and the business space worldwide," Dharmaraj said.

The company was founded on the notion that there should be better Web-based, cross-platform alternatives to Microsoft Office. So its sales to universities and businesses compete directly with Microsoft. (Dharmaraj and I spoke before the proposed Microsoft-Yahoo merger was made public.)

In the consumer Web market, engineers are starting to improve Yahoo Mail with some of Zimbra's technology, he added. For instance, Zimbra's calendar application will find its way into Yahoo Mail.

Zimbra's technology is based entirely on Ajax, the Web-programming model that allows people to use sophisticated features like mashups from a Web browser.

Its Desktop application in the new version lets people from a browser create and share text documents and embed spreadsheets within them.

The offline capability of Desktop will allow someone to access different e-mail accounts, such as Gmail and corporate mail. In the Tuesday release, that feature is in beta and is expected to be generally available later in the first quarter. Zimbra provides an open-source version of its server software and charges for a higher-end commercial edition.

Update: Dharmaraj on Saturday posted a response to a question about Microsoft's proposed merger on a product forum, saying that "nothing has changed."