Comcast Works on Single 'SmartZone' Comms Dashboard with Zimbra

Comcast has turned to open-source software vendor Zimbra to help supply some of the technology behind the U.S. cable provider's upcoming free SmartZone communications dashboard for its broadband users.

The idea behind SmartZone, announced Monday, is to give the vendor's customers a single place where they can manage their communications through a suite of software tools, according to Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury.

SmartZone users will be able to send and receive e-mail, listen to their voicemail messages online and forward that information via e-mail to others, send instant messages and video instant messages and merge their contacts into one address book. Users will also have the ability to personalize their individual SmartZone dashboard with the weather, news reports and video clips of their choice, she said.

Eventually, Comcast may look to link SmartZone to its existing TV planner application and allow users to set alerts for the programs they want to watch and then remotely record those programs on their digital video recorders.

The free SmartZone service will be available to users of Comcast's broadband Internet, cable television and phone services later this year via the portal, Khoury said.

Zimbra is providing the necessary unified messaging and collaboration software, while Plaxo is responsible for the address book service. Hewlett-Packard will lead work on the design, creation and management of the SmartZone communications center. The new dashboard will also include e-mail security software from Bizanga, antispam and antiphishing tools from Cloudmark and antivirus software from Trend Micro.

"It was very important to pick partners who were best in their class," Khoury said. "Partners who could come to market quickly with product and work at our speed. We feel like we've assembled the best team."

While Comcast and Zimbra wouldn't discuss the details of the tie-up, such as whether the relationship is in any way exclusive, the move could net the open-source vendor millions more users, albeit indirectly.

Comcast currently has 24.2 million cable customers, 12.1 million high-speed Internet customers and 3 million voice customers.

"This is one of the most exciting things that's happened to the company in its history," said John Robb, vice president of marketing and product management at Zimbra. In January, the startup announced it had over 6 million paid mailboxes globally and millions more users of its open-source groupware.

The move is also part of a strategy laid out by Satish Dharmaraj, cofounder and CEO of Zimbra, late last year. Dharmaraj said the open-source vendor's ultimate method of competing with collaboration software players like Microsoft and Google will be by eventually selling all the commercial versions of its products indirectly. That plan would leave Zimbra free to focus fully on software development and support, he argued.

Zimbra already has strong partnerships in place with broadband service providers outside of the U.S. to distribute its software, notably Orolix in Brazil and Tata Broadband in India. Dharmaraj said back in November that Zimbra was in talks with U.S. companies to establish the same kind of relationships.

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