Microsoft SharePoint goes open source? Shock, horror! Ok, well not quite, but an open source alternative to SharePoint is now an option with the release of Alfresco's Lab 3 Beta product. Alfresco's new module allows you to hook Office into Alfresco, giving you the option to use Alfresco as opposed to SharePoint as your collaboration platform.It's an interesting option. As readers of our ECM Suites Report 2008 know, Alfresco is one of the more interesting ECM vendors around. The question you might ask yourself however is, why would anyone want to do use Alfresco instead of SharePoint? Clearly open source enthusiasts will herald this as a major breakthrough - and those enterprises that espouse open source may well become customers. But then again, if you are going to dump Microsoft for the back end, why use Office at all, given there are open source alternatives?
But this release has appeal beyond the open source community, for the simple fact that by using the Alfresco alternative you are not locked into the Microsoft stack. This isn't so much an issue now, but will be when Office and SharePoint effectively merge at the next major release. Unhooking the two from each other (or at least having the option to do so) is good risk mitigation, and a powerful thing to have in your armory when negotiating with Microsoft.
Where Alfresco may find a particular sweet spot is with those organizations looking to take SharePoint beyond its limits. In some of those cases Alfresco may well be more developer-friendly both in terms of the technology (AJAX and RESTful) and more digestible in terms of pricing. It's a David and Goliath situation - and certainly that's how Alfresco would like to pitch it. But outside the Book of Samuel, David and Goliath-style battles seldom turn out in quite the same way.
One does need to be aware that Lab 3 is a beta release and an open source product, so it's really not to everyone's tastes. Nevertheless, while many ECM vendors have released SharePoint add-ons and related products, Alfresco's new module goes for the SharePoint jugular. Despite the small size of Alfresco, the product is likely to gain some real attention over the coming year. Worth remembering though (as we detail in our ECM Suites Report) is that while Alfresco may well be open source, it's not free, and just as some people think SharePoint is free, of course it is not. In other words, if you are thinking that Alfresco is a free alternative to SharePoint then you are mistaken, it's simply an alternative, albeit a very intriguing one.
As with any beta release we urge you to be cautious. We're currently looking at the product as a part of our evaluations for the ECM Suites Report, and of course in the context of our SharePoint Report. In time Alfresco Lab 3 may turn out to be a damp squib, but for now it's got our attention.