Blogger: Larry Cannell
This is the first in a series of blog posts where I discuss what Alfresco's support of SharePoint protocols means and what can happen now that Microsoft has released technical documentation of their Office and Windows protocols.
Last week Alfresco Software, the primary sponsor of the Alfresco open source enterprise content management (ECM) project, announced the availability of Alfresco Labs 3, a beta version of their forthcoming product release. Four key points were included in the announcement:
- Alfresco Labs 3 is a "fully-compatible SharePoint repository" and offers "Microsoft Office SharePoint protocol support requiring no additional client installation."
- The Alfresco Surf platform. This is based on the Alfresco web scripts framework that provides REST-based web service interfaces into the repository. It also leverages the Yahoo! User Interface Library and Adobe Flash to provide a better file uploading experience.
- Alfresco Labs 3 includes a preview of the Alfresco Share application. This is a new collaborative website template built on Alfresco. It provides a simple team website with document libraries, blogs, wikis, discussions, a calendar, and a personalized dashboard. It can also be extended with other components.
- Alfresco Labs 3 also shows off new platform features such as tagging and activities.
Reaction from the IT press was glowing. Although there were a number of good things included in the announcement, the SharePoint capabilities received all of the attention. InfoWorld's headline was "Open source ECM Alfresco now emulates SharePoint" but Network World took it a notch higher saying "Alfresco creates open source SharePoint clone."
What does this mean? Did Alfresco clone SharePoint? Will other vendors be coming out with their own cloned versions of SharePoint?
No, Alfresco did not clone SharePoint. Alfresco's use of the phrase "fully-compatible SharePoint repository" in the press release may have been a little over the top. However, Alfresco Labs 3 is a good example of how an existing server-based product can be extended to support functions previously only provided by SharePoint. Office applications, like Word, Excel, or Powerpoint can interact with Alfresco as if it were a SharePoint server. At this time Alfresco is only leveraging a small subset of the SharePoint protocols. However, it might be possible for Alfresco to use more of these protocols to support other functions like forms processing and more formalized document and record management features in Office.
But even without Microsoft Office support, Alfresco Surf is an intriguing collaborative workspace and is worth a look. It has a simple interface and will be familiar to anyone who have used things like blogs or discussion forums. The addition of Surf workspaces as well as capabilities like tagging and support for activities will probably have a broader impact on productivity of users than SharePoint protocol support, at least initially.
But, taking on SharePoint makes for good headlines. In addition, thinking about how these newly published Microsoft protocols could be used to extend existing products or become the basis of new products is an interesting topic to consider. What if the use of SharePoint protocols becames prevalent enough to become a de-facto standard for interacting with a collaborative workspace server?
In my next blog post I will answer the question: "What the heck is a SharePoint protocol!?"