Thunderbird / Lightning with Zimbra

Every few months I get a pressing urge to try and throw Outlook off my Windows machine – it’s bloated, isn’t a particularly good IMAP client, and with each passing version gets gradually harder to disable HTML mail entirely. In the past, I’ve ended up trying another mail client, but ultimately find myself gravitating back towards Outlook. A few years ago, it was because it was the only thing that’d sync with Nokia phones. More recently, it was the only thing (under Windows, at least) that’d sync with iDevices.

But not anymore. I have abandoned Outlook for good. (well, apart from client support…)

About 18 months ago, we started offering hosted Zimbra services. For those not familiar, Zimbra Collaboration Sever is an open-source groupware application, offering users the standard trio of email, contacts and calendars, and the ability to share any or all of those with other users. It’s an ideal replacement for a legacy Microsoft Exchange environment.

One of the things I particularly like about Zimbra is the effort they’ve made to ensure syncing is reliable across a range of devices and platforms. I can use Outlook on my Windows machine, on my MacBook Air, Thunderbird + Lightning under Linux, as well as sync with an iPad, iPhone, Android tablet and phone. And in general, it just works.

Calendars and contacts are usually the most difficult thing to get syncing properly. Lightning has come on a long way since I last used it, and this time, setting up calendar sync was a simple matter of pasting the CalDAV link to my calendar from the Zimbra web interface’s sharing dialogue into Lightning, and my calendar entries appeared within a few seconds. It seems to have no problem syncing multiple calendars, even against multiple Zimbra servers (we operate a ZCS Network Edition cluster as well as a free/open-source ZCS Community Edition cluster).

Contacts syncing is handled by the excellent Zindus extension for Thunderbird. Similar to calendar syncing – just feed it your server name, username and password, and within seconds, address books are populated. A spot of caution though: I started with an empty Thunderbird installation, so there was nothing for it to upload – I’ve not tested lots of data going the other way (e.g. converting a local Thunderbird address book into a Zimbra address book). I have no reason to believe it wouldn’t work – I’ve just not tried it.

That leaves Tasks as the one item I still need to resolve. Any suggestions? :)


IT Consultant, Network Engineer, Photographer, Audiophile.

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