Zimbra Collaboration Suite

Posted by Tejus Parikh on June 12, 2007

I finally bit the bullet, bought another box and started running mail functions for vijedi.net through Zimbra. Our reasons for this were pretty standard. Nobody wanted to use the webclient because it wasn’t responsive and felt very clunky. It was a webmail client that felt like a webmail client. Which made the client and it’s shared functions almost useless, since nobody used it, except in case of emergency.

Zimbra, on the other hand, fucking rocks (to borrow a phrase from a former colleague). The interface is Snazzy (capital S intended). It feels like a high quality desktop client. It’s responsive on an adequately powered machine, it’s clean looking, has really nifty threading support, and is easy to administer for basic tasks. It even has a lite client for access from slower machines. The lite client has all the same functionality, but without the Web 2.0 goodness like drag and drop adn no page refresh. You can’t ask for much more from a web mail client.

Zimbra, on the other hand, is built from the ground up to be Web 2.0. Using the web client feels a lot like using Mail.app and iCal.app on the Mac. It’s that simple.

The Zimbra install was surprisingly easy, as long as you pay attention to the directions and don’t try to install on OpenSUSE. All it takes is an clean install RHEL 4 or a clone. Vijedi.net uses Centos 4 instead of RedHat. Follow this with a download of Zimbra, un-pack, run the install script, and you’re good to go. The instructions are that solid and easy to follow.

Getting it running in production for me was a simple matter of updating my MX records. From start to finish, it was about 4 hours, including transforming the parts from Newegg into a computer.

We were able to migrate our old mailboxes with the imapsync utility. This was the second most difficult part of the process, since finding the right parameters took a bit of futzing. The most annoying part has been calendar migration. The wiki page for importing through the REST api is clear enough, but there’s no guidance on what to do if something goes wrong. Apparently, our old collaboration suite (Horde) exporting an iCal entry that Zimbra did not like. Now, according to my wife’s calendar, it’s her cousin’s anniversary every day of the year. And not only that, he got married in 0 AD! I couldn’t find a way to delete either the entry (that threw an error) or the default calendar. I posted to the Zimbra forums, so we’ll see how good the community support is. Otherwise, I might just have to grab the source and figure it out myself. Thankfully, java stack traces are pretty clear things.

Overall, I’ve been extremely pleased. It’s rare to have an install go as smoothly as this one and it’s a definite upgrade. I installed the open-source version of Zimbra. They have different versions with differing levels of pricing and features. You can’t really complain about the business model. The technology components that are based on open source or open standards are free. Things like Outlook integration and Blackberry integration are not. If you’re looking for an Exchange like solution, Zimbra is a far superior alternative.

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: