Month: November 2008

JBoss Seam Client for Alfresco – a Rich Java UI for Alfresco

Posted by on November 18, 2008

Since Alfresco was first released in 2005, I have led a number of projects that required some sort of custom user interface on top of the Alfresco repository.  In a few cases, we customized Alfresco’s standard web client.  For others, we built custom interfaces that were stand-alone web applications or were exposed via portlets within a portal framework like Liferay or JBoss Portal.

In most cases, we needed a user interface that was not embedded within the repository, but rather was hosted remotely as a standalone web application.  To do this, the main choices for the web application to communicate remotely with Alfresco are the following mechanisms:

Each one of these approaches has its pros and cons and the choice is highly influenced by the client’s needs.

Alfresco’s Surf platform provides a powerful framework that enables developers to leverage most if not all of the repository’s features using a RESTful approach using their Web Script runtime engine. It also allows for the web tier to be remote to the Alfresco repository.  Surf is a very good option for projects that have a Javascript-centric web tier, using frameworks such as ExtJS.  We have successfully built and deployed several Web Script-based UIs for customers, including one of the very first public sites to leverage Web Scripts found at http://highschool.ccsso.org.  In its most recent v3.0 release, Alfresco provides a UI platform for aggregating Surf dashlets to create fully functional web clients.  This platform is known as Alfresco Share.

However, we also have customers who want a Java-based UI solution too.  Alfresco’s original web client UI is a JSF/Spring based application that is customizable in many ways and is the only available alternative in this case (short of building your own web client).  It is built using a large number of custom JSF components that are very nice as long as your target UI is expected to behave similarly to Alfresco’s web client.  If you were asked to change the way one or more of these components work things start to get a little hairy especially when you realize how much work is required to make it do exactly what was needed.  There was an apparent need for developing a Java-based UI platform that shared some of the Share features.

So we set out to fill this void: To create an open source, Java-based UI platform for Alfresco.

We turned to JSF for the view framework, as it is the predominant standard in the Java community.  One of the challenges of JSF component development has always been ease of customization, or the lack of it.  Even though the JSF spec allows for extending UI components, it is still not trivial to make your components very flexible.  And what typically happens in those situations is that smart people decide to put in a lot of work into getting rid of the problem.  That’s where the JSF component suites come in. There are a lot of them out there.  Some open source, some not. Naturally I’m only interested in the open source ones.

When working with JSF components suites like JBoss RichFaces you gain a lot of leverage when you incorporate a framework that makes dealing with the JSF lifecycle both intuitive and easy.  If you guessed that I was talking about JBoss Seam, you’re right.

Projects that are more Java-centric and make use of web frameworks such as JSF would find that a remote Java API that provides access to the Alfresco Foundation Services (AFS) is necessary.  In this case, our own Remote Alfresco API rivet is ideal.  It is both scalable and fits within the JEE tiered approach quite nicely.

For these reasons, the technology stack we used for building our Java-based Alfresco web client is comprised of JBoss Seam, RichFaces/Facelets, and RAAr.

So here was the perfect opportunity to bring all this technology together and provide the Alfresco community with an example of a new way for developing Web 2.0 rich web clients for the Alfresco repository.  We decided that the web client had to be rich (AJAX is key here and RichFaces among other JSF component suites makes it possible), remote from the Alfresco repository, and modular so that it could be reused in other projects in the future.  And while we were at it, it needed to be easy for new developers to contribute to.

We gave the web client a name that explains what it really is; Seam Client for Alfresco rivet — SCAr.  (As an aside, because we incorporate RichFaces we also considered calling it ScarFaces :^)

From a high level, SCAr makes use of RAAr to utilize a complete suite of services that fully expose Alfresco ECM’s core services at the back-end, and a number of out of the box JBoss RichFaces AJAX enabled UI components at the front-end tied together using JBoss Seam to provide a single page multi-user interface to Alfresco ECM’s document management system.  The following diagram shows a high-level overview of SCAr.  The power of this architecture is in its inherent simplicity without sacrificing flexibility.

SCAr high-level architecture

The internal architecture of SCAr is broken down into a number of RichFaces components each exposing one or more of Alfresco’s document management features.  Each RichFaces component is backed by a Seam action class (POJO), where each Seam listener has access to a RAAr abstraction layer providing it with an easy to use domain specific API into Alfresco ECM. By making use of Seam observers each user action triggers one or more events at the back-end allowing one UI component to manipulate the state of the other components on the screen as needed.

The following is a screenshot of what SCAr looks like to a typical end user:

SCAr UI

This development framework makes enabling new features and customizing the behavior of existing ones straightforward.

A demo site running SCAr can be accessed at http://scar.rivetlogic.com.

If you want to know more about SCAr you can visit its wiki pages here: http://wiki.rivetlogic.org/display/SCAr/

Rivet Logic Surfs Alfresco

Posted by on November 17, 2008

Alfresco Surf First Wave Partner Logo

Rivet Logic Selected as Alfresco Surf First Wave Partner

We’re proud to be selected by Alfresco as a Surf First Wave Partner. Our engineers have been looking under the hood of a pre-release version of Surf for the last few months, and are quite excited about what it brings to the table for developing certain types of dynamic websites and content-centric web applications. Russ posted his initial thoughts on Surf here.

To learn more, we’ll be hosting and leading an Alfresco Surf Code next month. Register here.

Next Generation Campaigning Helps With Obama’s Rise to Presidency

Posted by on November 05, 2008

Along with millions of Americans, I too watched the election results last night as the gap between Obama and McCain increased and the critical swing states turned blue one by one. While’s it’s apparent that the vast majority of Americans are ready for a change, part of Obama’s election success can be attributed to his modern way of campaigning, utilizing the power of people and technology in a way never done before during during the election process.

Obama’s campaign recruited Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, to build its own social networking site, myBarackObama.com. Talk about harnessing the power of the internet.

The internet grew from being the medium of a core group of political junkies to a gateway for millions of ordinary Americans to participate in the political process, donating odd amounts of their spare time to their candidate through online campaign tools. Obama’s campaign carefully designed its web site to maximize group collaboration, while at the same time giving individual volunteers tasks they could follow on their own schedules.”

This collaboration of Obama supporters resulted in some creative contributions, such as the Obama ‘08 for iPhone, where social networking features allow users to participate in the campaign process with friends.

This next generation campaign strategy was able to reached out to millions of young voters whose voices might not have been heard otherwise. But by incorporating the technologies that are second nature to this generation into the campaign process, young voters throughout the nation found themselves wanting to take part in this historical landmark event. It wouldn’t be far fetched to say that it’s these young voters who helped convert traditionally republican states like Virginia to vote democratic for the first time in over 40 years.

“It was a peer-to-peer, bottom-up, open-source kind of ethos that infused this campaign,” says Benko, a principal of the political consulting firm Capital City Partners, in Washington, D.C. “Clearly, there was a vision to this.”

It’s undeniable that Barack Obama’s campaign took electioneering to a whole new level, one that harnesses the enthusiasm of his supporters. Needless to say, this landmark election will also serve as a turning point in how election campaigns will be approached in the future.

Open Source – A Business Tactic?

Posted by on November 04, 2008

A recent research report by The 451 Group indicated that:

“Open source is a business tactic, not a business model. Open source is not a market in and of itself, nor is it a vertical segment of the market. Open source is a software development and/or distribution model that is enabled by a licensing tactic.”

For this report, “the business strategies of 114 open source-related vendors, including open source specialists such as Red Hat and Alfresco, and those for which open source is used more tactically, such as IBM and Oracle” were analyzed.

It appears that “there are few vendors generating revenue from open source software that are following a pure open source approach when it comes to developing all of their code in the open and licensing all of their software under open source licenses”.

Although this offers some interesting facts, I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions of this report. It may be true that some open source vendors do utilize hybrid development or licensing models, but I don’t think it’s fair to call open source a business tactic. The fundamentals of open source haven’t changed. The report results seems like they could have been skewed by the inclusion of traditionally proprietary vendors with a few “open source” projects like IBM and Oracle.