Alfresco: the Samba of Enterprise Content Management


I have a soft spot for the enterprise content management (ECM) company Alfresco, largely because it's one of the few British open source companies out there. I've written about them a few times in Open Enterprise, but I think the following news is probably the biggest so far:

Alfresco Software today announced the availability of Alfresco Labs (Beta) 3, the open source alternative to Microsoft SharePoint. Alfresco Labs 3, formerly called Alfresco Community, offers Microsoft users greater choice by providing them with the first open source fully-compatible SharePoint repository. With Alfresco Labs 3, companies can leverage existing investments in Linux and Java as well as Microsoft .NET connection software to significantly reduce their SharePoint total cost of ownership and maximize their hardware and software investments.

SharePoint is probably Microsoft's least-known success story: it is taking hold throughout business, and providing the company with a kind of Trojan Horse for its other products. Alfresco's move is critically important for the open source world, because it offers enterprises an alternative – one that does not lock them into the Microsoft ecosystem. From the press release:

“With the massive growth of SharePoint, customers are seeking an open alternative that delivers equivalent benefits but with true platform choice,” said John Newton, CTO of Alfresco Software. “Alfresco Labs 3 is the first ECM product to implement the SharePoint protocol and provides users with the same access from Microsoft Office, while giving companies the freedom of choice in their hardware, database, operating system, application server and portal products. Customers will experience the best of both worlds providing workers with an easy-to-use content management and collaboration tool that is integrated with Microsoft Office while lowering overall IT costs and increasing return on existing investments.”

As Newton explained on his blog, Alfresco's implementation the Microsoft Office and Windows SharePoint Services protocols as a compatible server:

allows Office users to browse and find documents within the repository, checkout / checkin / version documents, share the documents in shared workspaces and access the additional menus and task panes reserved for SharePoint. All of this is available with no additional software needed to be added to Office.

In effect, Alfresco has become the Samba of ECM – a compatible open source solution that can be swapped in to replace Microsoft's proprietary versions. What's fascinating is why Alfresco was able to do this:

Microsoft released the SharePoint protocol as part of its compliance with the European Commissions’ decision issued on March 24, 2004.

In other words, thanks to the robust attitude of the EU – often accused of bullying poor little US companies like Microsoft – businesses around the world now have vastly more choice when it comes to ECM solutions. If that's bullying, let's hope that the EU continues to put the boot in.

BL = Betrayed Library

This kind of naive adulation is beginning to stick in my craw:

The British Library is bringing some of the world's rarest books online, with the intent of giving as wide an audience as possible the most accurate experience of reading the real thing.

To that end, it is using a unique piece of software called Turning the Pages, designed to allow readers to look at rare books in a natural way. With Turning the Pages, users can read the books in their original format, almost exactly as they were intended to be read by their original audience.

Why? Well:

A new version, Turning the Pages 2.0™, runs on Microsoft Vista operating system (and on Windows XP with the .NET 3 framework). It will also run on other operating systems using the Microsoft Silverlight plugin

So the BL's idea of progress is locking down books - you know, those old-fashioned things without DRM - with patent-encumbered technology. That's "giving as wide an audience as possible the most accurate experience of reading the real thing"? Only in the minds of rather dim librarians who understand nothing about the broader implications of the shiny technology they choose. Me, I call it a betrayal of everything the once-great BL stood for....

Originally posted at Open... This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence. Please link back to the original post.

Now read Glyn Moody’s Open Enterprise blog

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