Blogger: Larry Cannell
This is the second 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. The first post is entitled "Cloning SharePoint."
Alfresco's press release last week described Alfresco Labs 3 as offering "Microsoft Office SharePoint protocol support requiring no additional client installation." So just what is a "SharePoint Protocol?" SharePoint is a web application and the only obvious network protocol involved is between a web server and browser, right? True, but SharePoint also integrates with other Microsoft Office products using network protocols that enable Office users to interact with SharePoint without having to leave the application and use a web browser. Some of these include:
- Opening files directly from an Office application like Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. In this case the application works directly with files stored in SharePoint. Many collaborative workspaces will first download a file to local storage before it is opened by an Office application and then sends it back to the server when the Office application closes (or it may require this to be done manually). But, Microsoft Office applications can work with files in SharePoint directly. For example, when Word opens a file stored in SharePoint you may see something like the picture below indicating the application is transferring the file from a web server. Saving a file results in it transferring back over the network to SharePoint (which can be slow if you have a large file and often save changes, so there is a tradeoff):
- Working with "document workspaces" from within an Office application. "Document workspaces" are collaborative sites which you can create from a template in SharePoint or from within an Office application. They contain a document library, a calendar, a discussion forum, a list of tasks, and a list of links. Document workspaces are manipulated in the Shared Workspace panel of Office applications. The example below shows how this panel looks in Word. Just below it is a close-up of the tabs along the top of the panel (from left to right: status, members, tasks, documents, and links).
- Other examples include: creating a "meeting workspace" from the Microsoft Outlook scheduling interface (these are similar to document workspaces), Microsoft Access can link to data stored in SharePoint lists, Outlook can synchronize with calendars stored in SharePoint, Microsoft Excel can publish a worksheet to be shown by Excel Services (a SharePoint feature that renders a spreadsheet in a browser), and several others.
Alfresco and SharePoint
Alfresco Labs 3 supports the SharePoint protocol that enables the use of document workspaces within an Office application (like the Word screenshot above). The protocol is officially called "Document Workspace Web Service Protocol Specification" and is referred to in the Microsoft documentation as MS-DWSS. You can find the document describing this protocol here. I haven't tested all of these scenarios in Alfresco but the protocol specification says it can be used to "create, edit, and delete workspaces and folders for a site configured as a Document Workspace."
To learn more about this I created an Alfresco Share collaboration site using the Alfresco Share Preview. Here is how the site looked in my web browser after I added two documents:
And this is how the same Alfresco Share collaboration site looked from within Word:
Notice that the list of files looks almost identical to the Word/SharePoint example. However, Alfresco does not provide support for lists of tasks or links in a document workspace. These are two additional lists that are included in the document workspace template and are queried by the Office application to show in the Shared Workspace pane, but are not provided by Alfresco Share.
The documents listed in the Shared Workspace pane are opened by clicking on them. This is enabled by Alfresco's support of the WebDAV protocol (MS-DWSS is not involved in opening files). However, this is not a new capability for Alfresco. Many products have been supporting WebDAV for some time. Microsoft first showcased the use of WebDAV when it introduced Web Folders in Windows 98 and Windows 2000. A Web Folder shows a list of files in Windows Explorer as it they were a local folder. You can learn more about WebDAV at webdav.org.
In short, Alfresco Share presents itself as a document workspace to Office applications by supporting the MS-DWSS and WebDAV protocols. Other SharePoint protocols, which enable other Office application integrations with SharePoint (i.e. calendar synchronization, list access, Excel Services, and others), are not available in Alfresco Labs 3.
In my next blog post I will discuss how Alfresco's use of MS-DWSS is an example of the type of opportunities Microsoft has enabled by releasing Office protocol documentation. Some of these opportunities are related to product development but the biggest opportunity may be standardization of the collaborative workspace.