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Yahoo! is on the verge of selling its Microsoft Exchange–battling Zimbra unit to VMware, according to a report citing multiple sources "close to the situation."

AllThingsDigital reports that Yahoo! and VMware will announced a Zimbra deal "soon," but it says the Zimbra price tag is "unclear."

A Yahoo! spokesman declined to discuss the rumor, saying "We don’t comment on rumors or speculation." VMware told us the same thing.

Rumors have swirled since September that Yahoo! was looking to offload Zimbra, which it acquired in the fall of 2007 for around $350m. Comcast (a customer) and Google (a competitor) were mooted as possible buyers, but this is the first mention of VMware. According to ATD, Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz personally approached VMware boss Paul Maritz after the web giant failed to attract substantial bids from other outfits.

A source tells ATD that VMware sees Zimbra as a way to move "up the stack" from its foundation in virtualization. In August, the company purchased open-source Java framework specialist SpringSource in a cash deal worth $362m, but this was a (much) tighter fit with the company's existing business. SpringSource gives VMware the talent (and open source goodwill) it needs to polish its vSphere hypervisor for use with so-called "cloud" applications.

Named for a nonsensical Talking Heads song, Zimbra is an open-source alternative to Microsoft Exchange. The Zimbra Collaboration Suite installs as an in-house server, but it's also available as a hosted service through various third-party partners. Either way, it works in tandem with an AJAX-based browser client, a downloadable Zimbra Desktop client, various mobile clients, and third-party clients such as Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird. And, yes, either way it could run atop vSphere.

The free open-source version of the server is available under the Yahoo! Public License, née the Zimbra Public License. According to Zimbra, about 5 per cent of the tools available with the paid version of the product are missing from the open source version.

Speaking with The Reg this fall, Zimbra general manager Jim Morrisroe downplayed the possibility of a sale, emphasizing "tight collaboration" between his engineering team and the teams developing Yahoo!'s web-based Mail and Calendar apps. Zimbra technology currently underpins both.

According to Zimbra, its platform is now used by over 100,000 organizations across the globe, boasting more than 50 million paid mailboxes. ®

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