Alfresco Community Conference

Posted by on October 11, 2008

Today I am back in Boston after spending most of the week in Washington DC. I was there for the Alfresco Community Conference and also to spend some time at Rivet Logic’s new headquarters. We have a lot more room for our team in our new digs. Every time I have a chance to spend time with the group in Reston I am reminded of what an awesome team Rivet Logic has put together and why joining this team was such an easy decision.

The DC Conference was absolutely awesome. I left DC with the same excitement I had for Alfresco the first day I read about it on the web back in early 2005. This coming release is a Landmark release for Alfresco and a springboard for really big things in the future.

Last year Alfresco gave us Web Scripts. Web Scripts was raw functionality / capability for binding web-based functionality hosted in the repository to a parameterized, ReSTful URL. Web Scripts allowed Alfresco to easily integrate with other platforms, participate in mash-ups and to some extent get around the issues with the traditional alfresco web client (it’s much slower to develop for and a bit “click” intensive.) Web Scripts by it’s very nature is AJAX friendly which leads to better, more rich user experience and the javascript / freemarker construction makes building Web Scripts a whole lot easier than writing, compiling and deploying heavy Java code.

This year Alfresco gave us:

  • A better core repository
  • SURF
  • Alfresco Share
  • A peek at SURF Development Studio
  • CMIS

It’s clear that without the foundational work of Web Scripts and the capabilities in the WCM product the items above would not have come to pass in a single year. Web Scripts has enabled an explosion of capability. Last years release of Web Scripts may have seemed like a powerful but merely additional capability but it laid the foundation for a huge growth explosion. The game board was set up with last year’s release and it is evident with 3.x that the game has changed.

As Alfresco’s application architecture is refactored they are also able to refactor their team a bit and more cleanly dedicate resources to specific areas of the architecture. We now have a dedicated team of strong developers with a focus on repository scalability and stability. This week we were told we can expect better performance, scalability in both the DM and WCM repositories. We also heard that harmonizing the APIs and capabilities for these repositories is a goal and is underway. Alfresco has also added a new remote interface to the repository that allows Microsoft Office to use the Alfresco repository as if it were a Share Point server. Something good just got better. I like the direction the engineering is heading by cleanly separating the repository from the applications that work on top of it. I also like what I have heard about the focus on key areas like performance and scalability. New features are always important but are a distant second to improved performance and scalability of something as core and foundational as the repository and its content services.

SURF is an application platform for aggregating and delivering Web Scripts (and other components.) SURF is an MVC for site / application composition. Alfresco has taken Webscripts, templating, and URL addressability and parameterization capabilities out of the core repository, combined them with a set of new capabilities and re-organized them in a entirely separate framework. In essence SURF is entirely independent of the Alfresco Repository. The key here is that while SURF is entirely separate, creating Alfresco client capabilities in SURF is a snap.

Alfresco Share is a new application that Alfresco has developed, which, for many people will eliminate the need to use the traditional Alfresco web client for anything other than repository administration. Share is a collaboration platform similar to something one might expect from Share Point but with much more Enterprise 2.0 and social features. Share is really impressive and it demonstrates what can be built with SURF and how quickly and easily one can build it. Share was developed in less than a year but has features and capabilities of other systems that have been under development for years. Best of all, Share will continue to get better at a similar rate and because it is so easy to write new components with Web Scripts the community can contribute and accelerate this growth.

Development Studio is a SURF based application that integrates with Alfresco WCM, the Alfresco Network and your SURF application to provide you with a visual (WYSIWYG / drag and drop / edit in line) environment for developing SURF applications. I truly believe that Alfresco WCM is an awesome platform with advanced features and capabilities not found anywhere else in Open Source and in some cases even in the world of the proprietary giants. WCM is a new platform with groundbreaking capabilities but without a something like SURF or the Development Studio to demonstrate these capabilities, it was hard for customers to recognize the value sitting right in-front of them. Early on in WCM, Rivet Logic had developed similar capability to what you see in SURF for the exact same reason. SURF and the Development Studio help to round out the Alfresco offering and will really help to highlight the unique and powerful value in Alfresco WCM.

CMIS (Content Management Interoperability Standard) is a new standard for ECM platform interoperability. Today it is in DRAFT status with OASIS but according to John Newton, CTO of Alfresco there is a strong probability of its adoption with the backing of the like of Microsoft, Documentum, Open Text, Alfresco and several other key players. CMIS supports both Web Service and REST based protocal bindings making it very easy to integrate in to an existing platforms. Alfresco’s REST implementation provides nearly full coverage of the specification. Web Scripts played an important role in the lightning-fast turn-around time for this implementation. Again we see the foundational work of Web Scripts delivered last year providing big results less than a year later. CMIS will allow developers to write repository agnostic applications that will work against any repository which supports CMIS including Alfresco. CMIS also specifies a SQL like query language. Unlike previously proposed standards that pushed XQUERY and XPATH, CMIS is adopting a well understood paradigm which I believe will only encourage its adoption.

It was a fantastic week and an exciting conference. If you have not looked at Alfresco lately it is definitely time to take another look. This is truly an exciting release for this product! I really enjoyed the opportunity to see everyone in the community, Alfresco, and at Rivet Logic HQ.

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