Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Kara Visits Zimbra!

When BoomTown broke the news that Yahoo was paying $350 million for open-source email and calendaring company Zimbra back in September, it was clear it was not a middling move on the part of the Internet giant, which too often can act like a mouse when it comes to acquisitions.


In fact, the innovative Zimbra and employees, like its lively CEO and founder Satish Dharmaraj, are just the kind of new blood Yahoo needs as it tries to reinvigorate itself.

With the purchase, which was a bit pricey (but well worth it), Yahoo finally got the weapons it needed to go head-to-head with Google in the battle to offer fast-forward kinds of Web-based mail services to a wider range of customers from big ISPs to small businesses to universities.

Let’s be clear, Yahoo Mail has remained the bigger provider of Web email to general consumers. But most agree that it allowed Google’s Gmail to suck up all the oxygen in the room with more flashy features like threading of conversations, while not serving up a strong response in an arena Yahoo has pioneered quickly enough.

While its latest version of Yahoo Mail got strong reviews, such as this one from Walt Mossberg, Zimbra vaunts its effort at differentiation from the hyped Google offering forward more quickly.

More importantly, it has really strengthened Yahoo’s ability to make online email act more like a computer program than a Web page, which has been the main focus of late of Yahoo, Google and Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail.

The Zimbra acquisition takes it up a notch with a plethora of potential new features, such as easier-to-use calendaring and all sorts of nifty features via a widgety “Zimlet” system.

In addition, since Zimbra is designed with flexible and open Ajax programming tools, it makes it easy for third-party developers to make many other applications that jack innovation from the outside, making the communications platform the center of the Web experience with video, search and other tools.

Making online email sexy was not the greatest thing to have to sell to investors, but Zimbra did get backing from high-profile VCs like Benchmark Partners, Redpoint Ventures and Accel Partners. The start-up’s clients include Comcast, many ISPs and a number of colleges. The Wall Street Journal’s Robert A. Guth wrote about the company last year.

Now that the acquisition by Yahoo has taken place, Zimbra will continue to operate somewhat independently, although moving operations to Yahoo this month under the communications unit headed by Yahoo Senior Vice President Brad “Peanut Butter Manifesto” Garlinghouse.

Here’s my video interview with Zimbra’s Dharmaraj, which took place yesterday at its soon to be abandoned HQ in San Mateo:

And here is my video interview with Garlinghouse back when news of the acquisition broke: