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Zimbra readies open-source business e-mail

A competitive challenger in the messaging and collaboration market will release a second beta and a version aimed at businesses.

Zimbra on Tuesday will release a second beta test of its messaging and calendaring software and introduce a version targeted specifically to businesses.

Using an open-source business model and a modern development technique known as Ajax, the start-up is looking to unseat entrenched messaging suppliers IBM and Microsoft.

The company, which launched its first beta in August, makes its Web-based messaging product available for free with an open-source license. It intends to make money by charging corporate customers a license fee for a more functional "Network" version and a yearly support fee based on the number of mailboxes used.

On Tuesday, the San Mateo, Calif.-based company will make its first Network version available. The edition includes features to ease administration, such as simplified backup tools, support for clustered servers and storage tools for managing end-user mailbox accounts.

Also on Tuesday, Zimbra intends to release the "open-source" version of its Collaboration Suite, which includes a shared-calendar feature that combines several calendars onto a single view. For instance, a person can subscribe to a calendar feed for sports team schedules or business-oriented information, such as a calendar of conferences.

The updated beta version also allows people to receive RSS or Atom feeds in their e-mail inbox and to search through attachments.

Zimbra has designed the product so people do not need to flip between e-mail, calendar and other applications, said Scott Dietzen, the company's chief technology officer.

For example, a small window with product information from a packaged sales application shows over a customer name or product number. These features draw on Ajax development, where information can be automatically sent from server to client, noted Dietzen.

Zimbra will make a 60-day trial available for its Network edition. It now has about 12 corporate customers trial-testing its software and support products, Dietzen said.