I have been trying to assess the feature strengths of Google Apps for Education and Zimbra (most likely a yahoo hosted version).
The basic premise of both are the same online access to email and integrated with productivity applications such as shared calendaring, instant messaging, contact list, rss reader, document sharing (and creation) but how the products approach both are different as is their business model.
Google Apps is based on the google business model – give away services to get people’s eyes (and information) to generate advertising dollars. This model associates a no annual fee for colleges that choose to sign on.
The strong points to google apps for education is it universal mobility and it’s ala cart nature where if all you want is email then you can have it. Or if you want email and a calendar you can have it, or if you want ..
Secondary to this ala cart get at it from anywhere nature, but not far off is its design that easily allows for collaborative generation of documents, spreadsheets and presentations. To easily collaborate on a document without worry of versioning is a great leap forward in the academic arena compared to the options currently available to most learning environments.
The problem with getting excited about the Google Apps for education is drinking the kool aid of Google and all the paradigm changing ways that go with moving to the clouds with Google.
On the other hand there is Zimbra (hosted at Yahoo). Zimbra has all of the integrated features of Google (minus the labs stuff) but it attacks them from a different tack. Zimbra has designed its interface to include email, calendar, rss, chat, notebook, and briefcase into one Java based interface that is very comfortable to use. I think the comfort in zimbra comes from how it marries web2.0 features with the the desktop computing as most in this world are still do most of their computing from a desktop computer dedicated to his/her personal use.
Beyond the design of the interface, the briefcase which allows you to share any type of file with others internal to the system (or in read only format to the world). A question that I have not been able to answer is does the briefcase have some sort of version control where if the file is being used by someone another cannot open it for editing.
Multiple mobile phone/device support is another strength of the platform. I am not sure why but I seem to care more about this point than others but I think there is something there. Perhaps it is related to the zimbra’s tack on design and layout that marries the access to information with the realization that the device used will be personalized to the individual. (Gmail and all of google works much nicer in the access from any generic web enabled device).
There is more but I am tired. There will be more posts to come.