Notes on the Alfresco Community Conference in San Jose

More than 150 customers, partners, and prospects attended the Alfresco Community Conference in San Jose yesterday. There was a BarCamp the night before attended by almost 30 people. Alfresco capped attendance for both the Community Conference and the BarCamp.

Opening Keynotes

During the opening keynotes, Alfresco CEO John Powell and CTO John Newton went through their “state of the ECM market” presentations which attendees to the New York conference earlier in the year have already seen, for the most part. The theme is essentially that the old notion of ECM is dead, basic content services will bring ECM to the masses, and web 2.0/enterprise 2.0 needs to be woven throughout. Alfresco sees itself as being perfectly positioned for the transition to this new, more innovative flavor of ECM. They position themselves as being more front office/extranet/internet savvy than Documentum, Filenet, or OpenText, more back office than Vignette, Interwoven, or Drupal, and more enterprise than Sharepoint.

Adobe Share

For the first time that I know of, Adobe talked publicly about the technology behind their online document sharing service currently in beta. The Alfresco-backed service, share.adobe.com, offers anyone a Flex-based user interface for storing, transforming, and sharing documents. It essentially combines three online document-related services: Document Center (protect PDFs and Office documents), Create PDF (online service for creating PDFs), and pdf2text@adobe.com (email-based service for converting PDF to text). It then adds 1 GB of free storage for shared documents.

Any documents shared on the site are stored in Alfresco. After initial storage, several back-end services are executed including a virus scan, conversion to PDF, conversion to Flash, and the creation of thumbnails.

The Flex-based front-end talks to Flex DS which talks to Alfresco via REST. While in beta, the system is running on an active-passive cluster. To scale to the anticipated volume of millions of users and billions of documents, Adobe is going to have to scale both horizontally and vertically. Details on exactly how they plan to do this were not discussed.

Up-coming releases

  • 2.9 Enterprise (Q2 2008) — This is the first I’ve heard of an Enterprise release for 2.9. I’m not sure if this is real or not.
  • 3.0 Community (Early August)
  • 3.0 Enterprise (Early October)
  • 3.1 (End 2008?)
  • 3.5/4.0 (Mid-2009)

Check the Alfresco wiki for official timelines. All 3.0 development tasks are going to be entered into Jira under a project called “Slingshot” so if you’re wondering what’s in the new release, check there. At the time of this writing I couldn’t find any reference to Slingshot.

Web client 3.0: No longer 100% Flex

One 3.0 change that deserves attention is the new web client. Earlier in the year the plan had been to build it entirely on Adobe Flex. The new plan is to build the client entirely on web scripts with strategic use of Flex-based components where it makes sense. That’s right–no more JavaServer Faces. (Alfresco engineers say JSF just kept getting in the way).

Another interesting aspect of the new web client is the plan to make it an Alfresco WCM-managed web site. That means web client customizations would be handled like changes to any other web site. The new web client could also be used as an example of how to build your own dynamic web site on top of Alfresco’s REST interface. Custom solutions could optionally leverage Alfresco components as needed alongside custom components built on web scripts. The “classic” web client will continue to live for at least two years after 3.0.

An important side note to this change is that with 3.0, the web client and the repository no longer run in the same process. The repository will continue to be a web app deployed to a servlet container, but it won’t be coupled with the web client. They will be two separate web apps.

Alfresco’s Moves to the Front-End: Alfresco Dynamic Web Site

The other big buzz was around the new Alfresco Dynamic Web Site. In a nutshell, this gives Alfresco WCM something it has lacked, particularly when compared to offerings from folks like Vignette or Drupal: a front-end presentation framework.

Currently when you install Alfresco WCM you get just about everything you need to manage a web site but you don’t get a web site or any tools to help you build the web site. Alfresco’s Dynamic Web Site is an attempt to provide a sample site, a set of components, and tools for WYSIWYG editing of the web site. It makes more sense when you see it, but imagine previewing a web site and then dragging and dropping components, web content, and images from a tree view of your repository onto regions of a web page and you’ll have some idea of what this is.

Under this model, Alfresco hopes that web script-based components will flourish into a library of publically-shared modules a la Drupal or Sharepoint’s web parts. Web scripts are built with JavaScript (or Java) and Freemarker which is a much simpler (and open) development model than that of Microsoft’s web parts.

Alfresco for the iPhone

Yet another good example of the power of web scripts was Yong Qu’s iPhone demo. Using Apple’s iPhone SDK and development tools, Yong built an interface to Alfresco for the iPhone. Using an online iPhone emulator, he showed how he could browse the repository, view documents and images, and search all through the slick iPhone interface. He tied that in to Alfresco’s new SMTP capability by taking a picture of the audience with his real iPhone, sending it to his Alfresco server via email, and then using the iPhone emulator to search the repository for the newly-added picture. The interface to Alfresco was based on three web scripts–one that handled browsing the DM repository, one that handled browsing the AVM repository, and one that handled search.

[Updated 2.9 Enterprise date which I had incorrectly listed as 2007]