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Alfresco Labs 3: Report from the trenches

Question asked by mabayona on Aug 9, 2008
Latest reply on Jan 29, 2009 by kayan
I´ve just installed the new Alfresco 3.0a and read the FAQ and the forums and here some comments:

1) Alfresco JSF: good to read in the FAQ that all 2.x functionality is in, including 2.9. Tested some of it and it seems so. No time yet to do an upgrade of an existing 2.9 test installation to see if it upgrades nicely.

2) Alfresco Share: good idea. Seems a little bit basic still. However, no hints about what to come. Here some of my suggestions:

- UI: more drag-and-drop please. I would expect to be able to drag and drop around  windows in the dashboard (as per Liferay, Google, …). Even, I would include the functionality (its all JS boys and it is open and readily available in e.g. Liferay) to close, expand, configure each dashboard window. This makes the user experience of using the dashboards VERY valuable and flexible. This is what joe user expects from a web 2.0 interface. One could think of even making each dashboard window a portlet by default! (3.1? ;).

- UI: drag-and-drop of files in the document libraries. Again, this is VERY useful and what is to be expected from 2.0. Optimal would be to be able to do D&D between the File Manager and Share´s Document Library. Real productive and efficient way of loading and moving files around.

- UI: Real state. Make a site nice and useful with more that 3 or 4 documents. Now due to the size and design of the different graphic components, each document, blog entry, …takes too much space in the UI. Make the components smaller in order to get a UI with LOTS of information possible.

- Sharepoint interface: needed for enterprise usage. Experience shows that once Sharepoint is installed in a Company, there is no way of getting other software on  board that is not M$. Good and bold move. Allows the coexistence and survival of ECM OSS solutions in a M$ ecosystem.

3) OSS model: Lots of discussions. It all boils down to whether there is a win-win situation between Alfresco and its Community. My take is that as long as the Community gets access to ALL the patches on reasonable time, then there is an incentive to report problems, bugs and feature requests. Alfresco should maybe be clearer in this aspect. My impression is that even Alfresco is still thinking about it and therefore no clear stance. On the other side, given the pricing model of >10K per CPU, Alfresco has decided to go for the big guys (probably for the Documentum et al. which are used to pay >100K). If this is the case, some solution should be given for the small companies which cannot afford those prices. There is the 25-licenses pack from RH. However, it seems that this is not a very popular option. On the other side, if one compares with the license prices paid for e.g. M$, Oracle, SAP, … maybe, then Alfresco is not that expensive after all. Another point of friction is the view and differences of "Free": "gratis vs open". There is no easy middle point, since the money has to come from somewhere. Sample Business Models to consider are: Liferay, Jira, Apache, Openbravo and MySQL. I think that Alfresco is somehow between Openbravo and Jira. Some users would like to have it closer to MySQL or Liferay. My impression is that Alfresco understands the OSS model and the importance and competitive advantage of having an active Community around. The GPL move was a bold and valid move in this direction. Without an active Community Alfresco would loose momentum and without a profitable business model, Alfresco would have to go slower. Not an easy decision but vital and critical for Alfresco future.

4) Data exchange between Share and JSF: ABSOLUTELY critical to keep the door open. It seems that Share uses an hybrid store model to allow for it AND not to stop innovation. Also critical to communicate clearly what the migration plan is and what the options are.

5) Share as cooperation platform: there is lot to be said about it. My experience is that the pattern of being able of creating a "site" a-la-carte to support a project and the data exchange between the site members is very powerful. However, what is offered should be competitive. Blogs and wikis are very important and well known, therefore, the functionality should be comparable. The blog and wiki offered in share are a little bit too basic to be considered of any use. Hope new versions close the gap. I would personally recommend to increase the importance of the wiki and include GENERAL ADDRESABILITY between the different site components: documents to wiki entries to blog entries, to actions, to news. Also I would include a kind of dashboard that could be created using the wiki and could be entirely made up of cross references in the site AND with other sites as well.

6) BPM-Advanced workflow support: Very important for team coordination and for supporting company´s business processes

7) Forms support: 2.9 included some form support that is not complete nor very usable. Plans for 3.0 identified it as important. No very much progress visible in this area. Note that a big amount of coordination tasks in a company (e.g. invoices processing, CRM support, reporting, expenses,to-do lists, pending tasks,  …) are just the combination of Advanced Workflow plus flexible Forms Handling.