New features make Alfresco in the Cloud worth a look

It occurred to me today that I’ve never blogged about the great work that David Gildeh and the Engineering team have been doing on Alfresco Cloud, which is a huge oversight on my part. The team launched several new features today, so that’s given me the nudge I needed. And if you haven’t tried it yet, maybe it will be the nudge you needed too.

I’ve been using Alfresco in the Cloud for some time now, both as a tester of the early offering and to do real work. For example, we’ve got an external firm working on the design of a new web site just for DevCon. It was a no-brainer to simply spin up a new Alfresco site to share documents with the external team via Alfresco in the Cloud. Much easier than it would be to get them access to our internal, on-premise Alfresco server. I think we’ll also create an Alfresco site for DevCon speakers and sponsors, to make it easier to share things like presentation templates, presentations, speaker bios, speaker headshots, sponsor collateral, etc.

In case you haven’t tried it, Alfresco in the Cloud is a multi-tenant SAAS offering of Alfresco Enterprise. Well, it isn’t exactly Alfresco Enterprise–there are a few differences. At the moment it is only about file sharing. You can add comments and ratings to a document and you can follow other users, but there aren’t other types of collaborative features that are available in the on-premise version. Still, if you’ve used Alfresco on-premise you’ll immediately recognize and be familiar with Alfresco in the Cloud.

A Few New Features Worth Mentioning

Today Alfresco released several new features that should motivate you to try it out. The first is the ability to publicly share any document. You just click the “Share” link and Alfresco generates a shortened URL. When your colleagues click the link you send them, they’ll go straight to the document preview with no login and no download required. That’s pretty cool. (One thing I’d like to see, though, would be a link to the full context so that if I have the rights I could then edit the metadata and so on, but that seems obvious, so I’m sure it is already on the list) (UPDATE: It’s in there, as David Caruana points out, see comments).

The next new feature is the addition of folders rules and actions. This is huge because (1) it is so useful and (2) it is a unique feature compared to what you’d see typically in consumer-grade cloud file sharing. In case you aren’t familiar, folder rules and actions make it possible to automate repetitive tasks as documents are added, updated, or deleted to/from a folder. In the Cloud, the actions are currently restricted to “Move”, “Copy”, and “Transform”. So, for example, suppose you want to transform all GIFs to PNGs as they arrive (similar for DOC to PDF and so on). A rule lets you do that. Or maybe you want to put everything that has “requirements” somewhere in the file name into a folder called “Requirements”. Rules are great for stuff like that.

For people who have upgraded from the free forever 10 GB account to a Cloud subscription, you can take advantage of another nice feature that was recently-added: WebDAV support. This means you can work with files that live in the cloud directly from Windows Explorer, Mac Finder, Office, or other tools that support WebDAV.

The final new feature is the addition of 256-bit AES encryption. It doesn’t provide much in the way of a sexy demo, but it is certainly a critical requirement to Enterprise users looking to store sensitive content in the repository.

The Beauty of Alfresco: One Platform, One API

What I think is really cool, though, is that the software we’re running in the Cloud is the same as what you can run on-premise (or on your own cloud infrastructure or on your developer laptop). So there is no mystery in how it works–it is all open source, after all. And it means that the lessons we learn about running Alfresco for thousands of users with tons of data make their way into Community Edition and Enterprise Edition.

But it gets better. Sometime later this year, as a developer, you’ll be able to write your own custom apps that persist content to Alfresco in the Cloud. That’s when it is going to get real interesting to me. Because at that point, you’ll be able to write apps that use Alfresco as a back-end, and it won’t matter whether you’re persisting against Cloud or on-premise (or both)–it is the same API (CMIS-based, I might add). And it won’t matter whether your users need to get to their content from a mobile device or from their browser (or both). Your app can run everywhere your users are and still use the same API to work with content.

I’m chomping at the bit to get my API key so I can play with this. I know several of you will be to.

Try It, You’ll Like It

Until then, you’ll just have to be patient and just enjoy Alfresco in the Cloud as an end-user. It is free to get started (sign-up). Partners get a free upgraded account, if I’m not mistaken, so if you are a partner and you don’t know about that already, ask your partner rep.

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