VMware is making a beta version of an upgrade to its Zimbra Collaboration Server available for download, with shipments in final form scheduled for later this quarter.

Zimbra Collaboration Server 8.0, a major upgrade of this Linux-based enterprise email and calendaring product, has been designed to be easier to install and can be integrated with third-party unified communications tools.

Gartner analyst Matt Cain said that with this upgrade, VMware continues boosting its enterprise collaboration product line, which also includes the SlideRocket cloud application for sharing slide presentations, the SocialCast enterprise social-networking suite and the upcoming cloud file-sharing system code-named Octopus.

"VMware is assembling a compelling suite of collaboration products," Cain said via email, adding that the company could emerge as a strong third player in the collaboration suite market behind Google and Microsoft.

"The two elements that it is missing are a strong cloud platform, delivered by either third-parties or by VMware, and a real-time collaboration stack: instant messaging, voice, web/video conferencing," he said.

This new version can be installed as a virtual software appliance that the company claims can be set up in as little as 10 minutes and thereafter requires little management.

"We want IT administrators and end users to get the benefits of a SaaS-like application whether it runs behind their firewall or is hosted by a service provider," said John Robb, VMware's senior director of collaboration products.

The Zimbra product can be installed on customer premises or hosted in the cloud by a VMware partner. There are now 85 million Zimbra paid mailboxes in use by 250,000 organisations.

The Zimbra Collaboration Server 8.0 can be integrated with Cisco and Mitel unified communications products to mesh with Zimbra product functionality like IM and presence, IP telephony, web meetings and video conferencing, the company said.

In addition to the deep, "out of the box" integration capabilities with Cisco and Mitel products, the Zimbra server can also be manually linked with other unified communications products through a software development kit.

Other enhancements in version 8 include an expanded search functionality, a redesign of the user interface and more calendar features, such as scheduling suggestions for meetings with many participants, according to the company.

To simplify provisioning of accounts, Zimbra can tap into Microsoft's Active Directory or other LDAP directories and get the end user data.

For existing customers, the process of upgrading to version 8 will result in less than 60 seconds of mailbox downtime, according to VMware.

The Zimbra server can be accessed via a variety of clients, including a Zimbra Web interface, a Zimbra desktop application, third-party email clients like Microsoft Outlook and mobile devices including iOS, BlackBerry, Android and Windows devices.

The product starts at US$25 per user, per year in its hosted version, and $45 per user for a perpetual, on-premise license.