Just last week, we wrote about rumors that Google would be bringing offline access to Gmail and Google Calendar using Gears very soon. Today, Yahoo announced that it will be giving offline access to all free and paid Yahoo Mail users through the Yahoo Zimbra Desktop. This is the first time that all Yahoo users get offline access to their accounts. Zimbra Desktop is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

IMAP for All

Until now, only users with paid Yahoo Plus accounts had POP access to their email. Now, all Yahoo users will get offline access to their accounts through the Zimbra Desktop via the arguably superior IMAP protocol.

Yahoo bought the email and messaging company Zimbra for $350 million in September 2007, soon after Zimbra had launched its offline capabilities. The Zimbra Desktop runs on top of Prism, a Mozilla Labs product, which, just like Gears, is meant to allow users offline access to their web applications.

Besides working with Yahoo mail, Zimbra also supports all other IMAP and POP capable accounts, as well as, of course, accounts hosted on a Zimbra server. Zimbra has predefined settings for Gmail, AOL, and Yahoo accounts.

Still Beta

After one alpha and two beta releases under Yahoo, Zimbra is still calling this new version a beta, but given that fact that they are releasing it to all Yahoo users, the company must feel pretty good about the stability of the application. In our tests, we did not experience any crashes or other problems with the Windows and Linux client, though we did not test the Mac version.

The Zimbra Blog also lists a large number of other updates and new features to the application, including built-in notifications, minimize to tray on Windows, showing the number of new mails in the tray, and a few other minor updates.

Only Mail

One thing that is still sorely missing though (or at least we couldn’t find it), is syncing calendars, tasks, files, contacts, etc. Yahoo is surely planning to do this in a future release, but right now, this does reduce the usefulness of the Zimbra Desktop quite a bit.

Why Zimbra Only?

The big news, however, is definitely that all Yahoo users now have offline access to their email accounts. Of course, cynics might point out that all Yahoo would have to do is flip one switch and all its users could just use any email client they wanted for offline access. Those same cynics might point out that Yahoo is mostly doing this to justify the $300 million investment in Zimbra. However, at least Yahoo’s users now have one option to get offline access to their messages.