While it's still too early to tell if Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Yahoo! will go through (Yahoo! is still casting around for a white knight, Microsoft may not up its bid, and there's still regulators to convince), it could lead to some intriguing products in the collaboration, communication, and content space.
Yahoo! recently bought Zimbra (www.zimbra.com), a company that has created a really cool collaboration package. To quote Zimbra, "Ajax based web collaboration is at the heart of ZCS 5.0. The powerful web client integrates email, contacts, shared calendar, VoIP, and online document authoring into a rich browser-based interface. Also, our unique open source Zimlet technology makes it easy for you to include custom 'mash-ups' in the ZCS web client."
From what we've heard at Burton Group, Zimbra is very happy to be at Yahoo!, and continues to do its own thing while the higher ups debate Yahoo!'s longterm strategy. However, the vultures are already circling. They're claiming that given its druthers, Microsoft will shoot Zimbra if the Yahoo! deal goes through. I've seen several articles/blog posts to that effect, and at least one Zimbra competitor is claiming that. A fellow analyst sent me an e-mail from a PR person for Gordano that starts, "With the recent Microsoft/Yahoo! News [sic], Zimbra's users are definitely worried about the fate of their messaging systems and are looking for alternatives in case Microsoft kills a competitor to Exchange." (Surprise, surprise, the PR person recommends that those customers move to products from Gordano.)
I'm hoping Microsoft isn't that stupid. Rather than shooting Zimbra, Microsoft should embrace it. Zimbra, by rethinking what workers should be able to do while living in their office suite, has injected new life into mundane things like e-mail and calendars, and could do the same for Microsoft. I would love to see Microsoft come in and say, "You know, these folks are way ahead of where we are, and we should leapfrog to that position before Google or someone else does." Outlook Web Access, while a lot better than what it was several years ago, is still a second class usability citizen compared to the Outlook rich client. Microsoft could swap out Outlook Web Access, put Zimbra in its place, and have a state-of-the-art interface that would make both Outlook and Gmail look weak by comparison. I use Outlook Web Access a lot; a Zimbra interface would be a huge productivity improvement for me.
If Microsoft went the Zimbra route with OWA, Microsoft would then have to overhaul Outlook to keep up with the new standard it set. In this Web 2.0 world, e-mail and calendars are going to be a vendor battleground. I think Microsoft would do itself a favor by embracing a top class weapon: Zimbra.