Last week open source document management vendor Alfresco released Version 4 of its (commercially-supported) enterprise edition package. As we've come to expect from Alfresco, it's long on buzzwords and interesting new directions, but a bit short on functional niceties and architectural continuity.
The key features and implications for what Alfresco calls its "Cloud Connected Content Platform" are:
- The ability to publish content to external channels, such as YouTube, Facebook, SlideShare, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, you can only publish assets from Alfresco's document library to these channels. This is really different from say publishing a simpler web post to Facebook (unless of course you manage that post in Document Library).
- A new module to transfer files from Alfresco's repository to a file system.
- Replacing its Lucene-based internal search with a Solr-based alternative. Granted, Solr is based on Lucene, but now all the plumbing required to make Lucene work gets done by Solr and not Alfresco. This also means you will have to recreate your indexes and many services (such as blog and discussions) that used Lucene queries will now employ database queries. This should not have any impact on your applications themselves, but you should still test it carefully. You also can't use Solr if you employ the old AVM-based WCM or use Alfresco in multi-tenant mode. The latter prohibition is rather surprising given Alfresco's upcoming cloud service.
- Integration of Alfresco's in-house Activiti workflow engine in lieu of the incumbent JBPM. We have covered this before in our reports and it was only a matter if time before it happened. JBPM is still included in the base package for the time being but will remain disabled by default in new installations. I suspect it will slowly be deprecated over the next few versions. So this would be a good time to think of how you will migrate your workflows from JBPM to Activiti.
- A new app to access content from mobile devices. For now, Alfresco seems to have focused only on Apple's iOS and mainly on the iPad. This is probably a sensible prioritization because tablets (and in particular iPads) have a dominant share within enterprises. Alfresco is also working on an integration with DropBox, which would offer two key features: the ability to access Alfresco from all the devices that DropBox supports, as well as critical synchronization capabilities for things like document check-out, offline work, and multi-device sync.
There are various other changes too, but as you can probably make out, the big story seems to be around cloud. Alfresco plans to offer its cloud-based offering later this year, based on Version 4. Much of this is really new and by that I don't mean just in terms of technology. For example, their proposed integration with DropBox really tries to marry enterprise functionality with one that is consumer facing. We can't say how this will pan out in organizations but we'll keep watching.
Meanwhile, you should remain skeptical about anything that uses "Cloud" in any way and ask tough questions. Fortunately, there's help easily available. Check out this advisory paper: Are cloud-based file-sharing services too immature for the enterprise?