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Back in January I posted a blog about how powerful the Aspect feature was in Alfresco. It included two videos – one showing how to apply an aspect and one showing how to search on an aspect. A number of people have asked about getting access to my configuration files so they could try it out themselves. So here are the instructions and sample files.

Overview



These customisations will add a number of new types and one new aspect:







































































































TypesAttributesAspectAttributes
ContractContract IDCustomer InfoCustomer Name
Standard Operating ProcedureSOP IDCustomer ID
ReportReport IDCustomer Contact
Case FileCase ID
Issue LogIssue ID
ProposalProposal ID
Meeting NotesMeeting ID


Instructions



The demo configurations consist of 5 files. Copy these to the relevant location within the Alfresco install (note: if you already have some of these files, with local configurations, you will need to merge the changes).



Copy demomodel.properties to

[ALFREASCO]/tomcat/shared/clases/alfresco/web-extension/messages



(note: you will need to create the messages folder)



Copy custom-slingshot-application-context.xml and share-config-custom.xml to

[ALFRESCO]/tomcat/shared/clases/alfresco/web-extension



(note: you will most probably already have a share-config-custom.xml file. This one can replace the default one if you have not modified it)



Copy demo-context.xml and demoModel.xml to

[ALFRESCO]/tomcat/shared/clases/alfresco/extension



Now restart the server. If everything goes right you should now be able to...



















  1. Change the type


  2. Add an aspect


  3. Set the meta data


  4. Use the advanced search feature.


On Friday I was asked to present at the OpenDoc Society’s ODF plug fest in Maidenhead. The plug fest seemed to be the presentation equivalent of speed dating, with each of the attendees given 10 minutes to cover an aspect of ODF.



There were a number of presentations on the different office suites built to support ODF, including Libra Office (a branch of Open Office), EuroOffice (started life as a Hungarian version of Open Office, but now available in other languages), Lotus Symphony and Lotus Live Symphony (IBM’s version for the desktop and the cloud), and of course Oracle Open Office and Oracle Cloud Office (Oracles version for the desktop and the cloud).



Michiel Leenaars, of nlnet, talked about ODF Recipes. ODF recipes are examples that show how to programmatically drive the creation of ODF documents. The demo was very impressive. You can find out more at the Software Recipes web site.



Robin La Fontaine, of deltaXML.com, showed a great solution for tracking changes in ODF documents. This solution went way beyond the normal track changes feature provided by normal office suites. Useful for teams simultaneously working on large documents.



Possibly the most interesting part of the meeting were speeches from Adam Afriyie (Conservative MP for Windsor) and from local councillors. Adam talked about his support for open standards and open source software. He is keen to see an increased usage within government. But then the councillors shared their real life difficulty of adopting open standards within the local authorities. It seems that although the MP’s talk about adopting open standards the reality is that bureaucracy gets in the way. A requirement to support Microsoft formats when communicating with central government means that the local authorities cannot drop MS Office. This frustrates the local councillors and costs the local authorities millions.



At the end of the day I had to question why I use MS Office…



  • Is it better quality than the open source alternatives?


  • Does it have features that the others do not have?


  • Do I use it so that I can be compatible with my work colleagues?


  • …Or do I use it because I always have done and nothing has made me change?



Perhaps it is time I moved to ODF. I think I will download one of the ODF office suites and give it a go, I will let you know how I get on.
One of the new features delivered in Alfresco Enterprise 3.4 is the ability to replicate content between servers. Introducing this new feature has made me remember a project I worked on back in 1995. At the time I was at Documentum and working with a large global petroleum company. They were using Documentum to manage the creation and approval of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s). But they needed to make these available to remote drilling stations, often in distant parts of the world. Of course network reliability and bandwidth stopped them providing direct online access.  Content replication would have been ideal but was not available.



This is exactly the type of problem that the Alfresco content replication service is designed to solve. Content can now be replicated between servers, providing fast local access to key information. Replication can be scheduled to take place at regular intervals, run manually or triggered on an event (i.e. when new content is approved).



In the diagram below the SOP’s are replicated between the head office in Texas and the remote drilling stations. Having local copies mean that the remote workers are not affected should something happen to the network or source server.



I have presented this solution a number of times and two questions always come up:



  • Is replication the same as Clustering? No. Clustering is a means to support large-scale deployments by clustering the application over multiple systems. This is used to improve performance and reliability. But even though the application is spread over many servers it is still a single instance of Alfresco. With Alfresco replication you are running multiple, separate, instances of Alfresco and replicating a subset of the content between these servers.


  • Can’t I do the same thing with database replication? Some vendors use database replication, but this is more complex and is not as flexible as true content replication. First off, the content needs to be stored in the database (as BLOBS) or you need to synchronize both the database AND the file systems. Secondly the whole database is typically replicated – which is overkill if I only need to share a few files with the remote site. With Alfresco users have the flexibility to select a set of files and have these, and only these, replicated to a number of different servers.


The introduction of content replication in Alfresco Enterprise is a great new feature… I just wish it had been available 15 years ago!


  • Trialling Alfresco Enterprise?


  • Want some sample data to kick-start your evaluation?



Well now you can install the same sample data that is used on the hosted trial system.



For some time now we have been running a hosted trail of Alfresco in the cloud. This has been configured with fictitious users and some sample Share sites. These have been created to make it easy for people to trial Alfresco and see how Alfresco can be used to manage various types of project.



Will Abson has built a number of scripts that allow you to load this same data into your local system. The sample data includes the following sites:



  • Marketing: 2010 Company Rebranding Site – A sample site that manages the content associated with rebranding a company


  • Marketing: Image Gallery – Used to show how Alfresco can be used to manage images. Makes use of the image preview dashlet


  • Marketing: Global User Group Meetings (2010) – This sites makes use of the datalists feature to track actions for hosting a series of user group meetings


  • Records Management – An RM site complete with disposition schedules



Note: Each of the sites can be loaded individually.



You can download the Alfresco Enterprise trial here and trial data and instructions here.

Recently I was having a conversation with Alan Weintraub, Principal Analyst at Forrester. We were discussing the importance of building the right taxonomy for managing content. Both of us have been in the content management business longer than we cared to remember, and both have worked on systems that needed to create hierarchical type taxonomies with metadata held at different levels. Spending many hours trying to decide the most appropriate place for a certain attribute.



Enter Alfresco Aspects. An aspect is a collection of attributes that can be overlaid on to any file, irrespective of type. The system may have a number of types defined – Contracts, Reports, Issue Logs and Case Files. If I create a contract and then want to identify it as a customer contract I just add the customer aspect. Aspects can be applied manually, with the user choosing to add an aspect, or automatically – applying an EXIF aspect to hold extra photograph information once a JPG is uploaded. Of course multiple aspects can be applied to a file.





Using aspects makes it much easier to deploy Alfresco; it simplifies the metadata model and makes content much easier to find for the end users. I just wish it had been invented 20 years ago!



















Video: Adding an aspect

[youtube XyUx8QeHUSk?rel=0]
Video: Search an aspect

[youtube rJXkVQuKa94?rel=0]

Background



Apparently there has been some confusion over the various product names and the version numbering that has been used by Alfresco in the past (see a sample below).



[caption id='attachment_62' align='aligncenter' width='500' caption='Alfresco Product Names']Alfresco Product Names[/caption]



Now what makes perfect sense to us at Alfresco does not always mean the same thing to the Alfresco Community. For example while we knew that ‘Alfresco Enterprise Edition 3.2r’ meant that it would support ‘Records Management’ this was not immediately obvious to others. And when we released Alfresco Community Edition 3.3g (the g meant that it included a technology preview of the Google Docs integration), people asked what happened to versions a, b, c, d, e and f!



So to make it simpler we are adopting the following numbering convention...

Alfresco Community



The Alfresco Community product is freely available to download and use. Future versions of Alfresco Community will be identified by the following numbering scheme:

Alfresco Community Major.Minor.Build



Where:



  • Major - Number used to identify major releases in functionality (examples 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 etc.)


  • Minor - Number used to identify minor releases (example 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 etc.). There will be multiple minor releases for each major release


  • Build - Builds that are publicly released will be identified by a letter (example 3.4.a, 3.4.b, 3.4.c etc.)


The addition of a build letter will enable Alfresco to release multiple incremental builds for each minor version. These could be to provide a more stable version, or to include a technology pre-view. Each of these will be incremental (starting with a) so should allow people to easily understand which is the latest version.

Alfresco Enterprise



The Alfresco Enterprise product is provided to subscription customers. It has some enterprise extensions and goes through a more extensive QA process. Future versions of Alfresco Enterprise will be identified by the following numbering scheme:

Alfresco Enterprise Major.Minor.ServicePack.HotFix



Where:



  • Major - Number used to identify major releases in functionality (examples 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 etc.)


  • Minor - Number used to identify minor releases (example 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 etc.). There will be multiple minor releases for each major release


  • ServicePack - Number to identify the service pack included (examples 3.3.1, 3.3.2, 3.3.3, etc.)


  • HotFix - Number to identify which hot fix is included (examples 3.3.1.115)


As Alfresco Enterprise goes through its development cycle, various pre-view (alpha, beta) releases will be made available to customers. These will be identified with the full pre-view name (Example 3.3.alpha or 3.3.beta). This should stop any confusion about 3.3.a being an alpha version.

Cheetah



The next release has been code named ‘Cheetah’ and will be released as 3.4. So expect to see Alfresco Community 3.4.a and Alfresco Enterprise 3.4.0 released over the next few months.



You can check the roadmap to see what will be delivered as part of Cheetah and Swift.

Over the past few months I have talked to lots of people interested in the Alfresco Records Management solution. There are a number of reoccurring themes and topics that have come up. I thought I would share some of this advice, so below is a list of things to think about when considering adopting a Records Management solution.



1) Technology is Not the Answer



Many companies think that technology is the solution to provide them with a ‘quick fix’ to their compliance needs. The reality is that compliance is more complex than traditional Document Management or Collaboration. It is very easy to roll out a DM or Collaboration solution, allowing your end users to use it to manage the content that they are creating each day. But Compliance, the art of identifying and managing vital company records, is more complex.



Companies need to understand their legal obligations and put in place policies and procedures to address their compliance needs. Technology can help but it is not the answer. 



2) Understand your Legal Obligations



Compliance requirements will be different for each company and these are typically based on legislation and industry regulations. Companies need to research what their legal obligations are and develop a plan for how they are going to address their compliance needs. Things to consider include:





  • What types of document need to be managed (e.g. Financial Reports, HR files, Standard Operating Procedures, Email)?


  • How long do records need to be kept?


  • Do records need to be reviewed, and if so how often?


  • What should happen to records at the end of their life (transfer, destroy)?


  • Who should have access to file and declare records?



Only when they have a good understanding of these legal obligations should they start to develop policies and procedures that define your records management strategy.



3) Put in Place Policies and Procedure



Companies need to develop policies and procedures that can be communicated to the rest of the organisation. These policies and procedures need to be understood and easy to follow. It is no longer acceptable to state that a procedure was in place but that the company was not liable because an employee failed to follow it. It is the company’s legal responsibility to make sure all policies are being followed.



4) Make it Simple



Any compliance solution that is difficult to use is going to fail. When choosing a Records Management solution make sure that it is easy to use and can be used by any employee without disrupting the way that they work. One way of working will not necessarily work for every employee; in fact some employees may use multiple means to file records depending on what they are doing at the time. The way that employees want to interact with the compliance system will include:





  • Desktop access – Using drag ‘n drop to file records directly from the desktop


  • Email access – Using standard email clients to file emails and their attachments


  • The Web – Providing RM specific web clients


  • From DM or Collaboration – Content has a lifecycle before it needs to be filed as a record, make it easy to file once it is approved


  • Scanning – We are still waiting for the paperless office, so being able to capture and file paper is important



5) Try Alfresco



Having said that technology is NOT the answer it is part of the solution. Companies are looking for an easy to use, lower cost solution that will fit into their existing environment and business practices. By designing the Alfresco Records Management Solution on top of the Open Source Alfresco content management platform, Alfresco provides a single solution to allow companies to easily address their Document Management, Collaboration, Web Content Management, Imaging and Compliance needs through one simple system.



But don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself... take the Records Management challenge – start filing records with Alfresco in under 10 minutes...








One of the new features included in Alfresco Enterprise Edition 3.2r (released 16th February 2010) is the ability for Alfresco Share to browse the Alfresco Repository (repo). I have run a number of webinars recently and have demonstrated this new feature. This has resulted in a couple of questions about how to enable this feature (by default it is switched off). So I thought I would write a note to guide you through the configuration process.



To enable your users to browse the repo using Share you need to edit the following XML configuration file:



C:\Alfresco\tomcat\shared\classes\alfresco\web-extension\share-config-custom.xml



(Note: My install of Alfresco on Windows and is under c:\Alfresco directory)



Look for the section ‘Repository Library config Section’ and change the <visible>false</visible> to true (see image below). After this you will need to restart the Alfresco server.

[caption id='attachment_29' align='aligncenter' width='500' caption='XML Configuration File']XML Configuration File[/caption]

Now login to Alfresco Share and you should have a new 'Repository' button in the top navigation bar (see image below).

[caption id='attachment_31' align='aligncenter' width='500' caption='Navigation Bar ']Navigation Bar [/caption]

This new feature allows you to browse the general document library from within share. You have a number of ways to navigate and find content. These include:



  • Repository – Traditional folder hierarchy view


  • Categories – Browse using the assigned category hierarchy


  • Tags – Select content based on the tags assigned


  • I’m Editing – Quickly find documents that you are in the process of modifying


  • My Favourites – Quickly find documents that you have flagged as important to you


(see image below)

[caption id='attachment_33' align='aligncenter' width='500' caption='Document Library Browser View  ']Document Library Browser View  [/caption]

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