Some of our existing customers may be aware that we are going to be migrating them off our Microsoft Exchange 2013 platform to something else pretty soon. As part of our general philosophy we aim to offer our customers socially responsible alternatives were possible and so we’ve now run an assessment on Zimbra.
Our initial look at the platform is very positive and we now think Zimbra will be a great alternative Office 365 for most customers. After detailed platform testing, we have now added the Zimbra Email & Collaboration Platform to our service catalogue.
We are not going to host Zimbra ourselves, instead we’ve selected UK Based Zimbra Host In-Tuition to manage the platform for us. They have been hosting Zimbra since 2002 and after a good chat with them we have confidence in their offer. IT\norwich will continue to provide all the setup and ongoing support you need, but we can turn to the staff at In-Tuition as third line support if necessary.
So far we’ve tested the main features our customers will need in an email platform. We’ve configured ‘user’ mailboxes (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org ) and ‘shared’ mailboxes (e.g. email@example.com). The mailboxes feature Microsoft Exchange like services such as email, calendar and contacts which can be shared in a similar way to that which you may be used to. There are one or two features that do not work in a as quite an elegant way as Exchange, but these will be pretty minor for most users and can certainly be worked around easily.
Here’s a quick rundown of our findings:
Zimbra Mailbox Provisioning, Setup & Performance
Setting up mailboxes was easy and quick. The process is far simpler and quicker than it is when we provision an Microsoft 365 mailbox. The speed of the platform is impressive generally, unlike the typically slow performance we see when managing the Microsoft 365 platform.
Zimbra Web Client
The web based Zimbra client is fast to load, easy on the eye and incorporates the tools you need, having the usual email, contacts and calendar features, plus some extras. Some key points:
- The Mail tab automatically incorporates any email folders that have been shared with you (e.g. a sales@ mailbox). As far as I recall this is not currently automated in Microsoft 365. Writing an email is pretty straightforward, and though there is a built in spell checker we suggest you rely on a browser based spellchecker such as the one we pre-install for all customers on Firefox. There is a ‘conversations’ view but most sensible people will stay in list view and this is the default.
- The Calendar tab gives the usual day / week / month and list view of appointments in your calendar or shared calendars. I find the layout much cleaner that the Outlook calendar but of course you can still use Outlook with Zimbra.
- There is a Drive tab so you can upload files and see them right without navigating to a different platform, it works really well though there is currently no sync client for the desktop.
- A Preferences tab includes links so you can customise the web client. Not only can you adjust appearance, time zone, etc you can customise default search behaviours, set various setting as to how to share email, setup filters and signatures, out of office, email filtering and much more besides.
Of course you do not have to use the Web Client, your data will still synchronise with mobile devices and if you really want to use Microsoft Outlook then you can use that too.
Zimbra Mobile Setup
As you might expect Zimbra can be used on a mobile device so that you can access your data on the go. I’ve tested this with email, calendar items, contacts and have found this to be just as seamless as with Office 365. Setup was pretty straightforward on the iPhone and we’ll produce some documentation to help with setup for those that need it. There is no special software to install, it integrates with the Mail and Calendar apps perfectly well.
Zimbra with Outlook
If you are still keen to use Microsoft Outlook but like the idea of using Zimbra to host your mailbox – no problem. Using the optional connector you can connect Outlook to your Zimbra mailbox and use Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and notes as usual. Shared mailboxes and calendars appear as you might expect. The only significant thing we were unable to do in our test was to set an Out of Office from inside Outlook. If you want to do that you would need to set it up from the Zimbra Web Client.
At the outset of our testing I had not expected Zimbra to be able to compete with all the features we see on the Microsoft 365 platform. I had expected various problems with setup and sharing, but these issues simply did not materialise and setup on both the server and client was quick and easy. The added bonus of the nextcloud-like-zimbra-drive actually gives Zimbra the edge over Microsoft 365 for certain types of customers and so I will be encouraging more customers to the platform than originally planned.
Like Microsoft 365, Zimbra offers a number of different packages and price levels. Most customers will will need either the Zimbra Standard + or the Zimbra Pro package at £6.95 and £7.95 respectively. For customers with basic needs the Zimbra Basic mailbox could be adequate from just £2.95 per month. For more details please see the feature guide here.