Tag: release

Alfresco announces major changes coming in the 6.0 release

Last week, Alfresco sent a notice to its customers (link requires a support login) outlining some major changes coming with 6.0, the next major release of the software.

The general theme of these changes appears to be that of streamlining and simplifying the platform, both in terms of functionality it offers and in terms of how it is deployed and run.

I’m glad to see this happening–the platform is littered with good ideas that were implemented, iterated upon once or twice, and then abandoned (I’m looking at you, Web Quick Start). There is never a good time to make such significant changes to a shipping product, but it was probably past time to do this.

The high-level goals probably won’t surprise you. They can be summarized as: Better Integration, Containerization, and Enhanced REST API. The devil is in the details, and there are a few items that don’t fit neatly into those categories, so let me run-down each of the major items and give you my take.

Bye bye binary installers

Right off the bat, Alfresco says they are going to eliminate the binary installers and replace them with Docker containers. The idea is to make it easier to deploy across environments and data centers, whether those are on-premises or in the cloud.

My take: I like Docker and I know there are people running Alfresco in containers, but this isn’t going to be that interesting to most of my current clients, at least in the near-term, because they aren’t yet ready to use containers in production. Instead, it’s going to cause pain because we’re going to have to manually install Alfresco rather than use the binary installer. On the other hand, there are many things that need to be done for a production install that the binary installer does not cover, so the installer wasn’t really buying us much anyway.

Was nice knowing you, WAS

Alfresco is going to make the repository directly executable without the need for a separate servlet container. This means JBoss, WebSphere, and WebLogic will no longer be supported. The announcement says that support for running within Tomcat will also be dropped in the future, though it does not say when.

My take: I rarely see those “enterprise-y” app servers used any more, especially in the context of Alfresco. Most people run on Tomcat. But those running on Tomcat rarely run anything else besides Alfresco in the same Tomcat instance, so the value that Tomcat brings is pretty low. Making the repo directly executable nets out to a Good Thing.

Sayonara CIFS

It’s funny–CIFS is often the killer feature clients cite as the thing that made it possible for Alfresco to be their shared drive replacement. But it also seems to be a huge source of headaches. Alfresco says security vulnerabilities have made continuing with it untenable. Customers should switch to AOS for Windows clients and WebDAV for non-windows clients. AOS is shipped with Community Edition, but it is not open source.

My take: So many problems, so tough to debug. Good riddance. I will say that AOS has not been without its share of problems, and with AOS not being open source, we’re completely reliant upon Alfresco here.

So long Solr 1

Alfresco 6.0 will leverage Solr 6.0. Solr 1 is being dropped and Solr 4 is sticking around to help customers migrate to Solr 6.

My take: Alfresco has been playing catch-up with Solr for a long time, so anything that keeps it moving forward is good.

Disconnect the Share Connector

The Share Connector made it possible to integrate standalone Activiti (aka, “Process Services”) with Alfresco Share. This gave you the full power of a separate Activiti instance while letting users continue to use the document management and collaboration UI they were familiar with (Alfresco Share). Now Alfresco is essentially saying, if you need both, write it yourself using the ADF.

My take: Alfresco Share is essentially no longer being developed, so why continue to maintain a connector between Activiti (aka, “Process Services”) and Share? Agreed, it doesn’t make sense. And the more I look at the ADF, the more apparent it is that the true value of the framework is only realized if you are using both Process Services and Content Services. Otherwise, you end up stripping out a bunch of stuff you don’t need. But that’s another blog post.

Multi-Tenancy doesn’t live here anymore

Alfresco is dropping multi-tenancy support unless you have an OEM agreement.

My take: Ah, multi-tenancy. You think you want it until you see the list of what you have to give up to use it. It’s a feature even Alfresco didn’t use in their own cloud product. Now it’s official.

Deprecation Appreciation

Okay, those are the things that are going away. But the notice also included a list of deprecations. Web Quick Start, Alfresco in the Cloud, and Share Site Components will all be deprecated with Alfresco 6.0. All three are examples of good ideas that never really “made the turn”. I suspect Alfresco in the Cloud will prove to be the most problematic in terms of transition, depending on what Alfresco replaces it with.

Share Site Components means that Site Blogs, Site Calendars, Site Data Lists, Site Links, and Site Discussion Forums are going to be considered deprecated in the 6.0 release. Alfresco says if you need those features you should rely on integrating with other products or writing your own custom code.

Most projects I work on don’t use blogs, calendars, links, or discussions. I have a client or two that are using Alfresco as a team collaboration tool, but even then, the use of those tools is fairly sparse within the company. But lots of people use Data Lists, so that one may raise an eyebrow or two.

A Data List is just a collection of content-less objects of the same type. To Do Lists and Contact Lists are simple examples but people use Data Lists for all kinds of things. The Share UI doesn’t deal with content-less objects very well–you’re supposed to be collaborating on documents so when an object does not have a content stream it looks a little ugly. The Data List UI in Alfresco Share is an answer to that. But Alfresco is encouraging the creation of custom applications with the ADF (or without) so if you need something like a Data List, the repository still supports it–it’s just up to you to develop the UI.

Dropping these lesser-used tools is okay. It does seem weird that they are being dropped before Share is officially discontinued. Why not just let them stick around until Share is dead? I suspect Alfresco knows it will be a long, long time before they can officially kill Share, so they might as well trim what they’ve got to lessen the ongoing burden and to “purify” the platform of anything that’s not strictly about content.

Developer Direction

The notice closes out with some advice for people customizing the platform which can be summarized as: Use the platform as a black box. Rather than customizing Share, write a custom application that calls Alfresco’s services. Rather than integrating Alfresco with other systems “from the inside, out” by writing code that runs in the same process and leverages the foundational, native Alfresco API, put that logic in external applications that get what they need from Alfresco via REST. This is sound advice and I think many of us made that shift a while ago.

I should note that while Alfresco would like you to use ADF to build your custom content-centric applications, you’d be wise to assess that decision carefully. Depending on exactly what you are doing you may be better off without it.

There are some confusing statements about workflow. Here’s what the announcement says (emphasis is theirs): “In order to make it easier to design, deploy, and maintain custom workflows, in a future release we will be providing a platform-wide workflow service using Alfresco Process Services (powered by Activiti). This will replace the use of embedded Activiti for custom workflows. Future custom workflows will be implemented external to the Content Repository and will leverage the REST APIs of Alfresco Content Services.”

That sounds to me like they are removing embedded Activiti from the repository. However, in the next bullet, they say, “ACS workflows are intended to automate the management of content items within the Content Repository and APIs for custom workflows will continue to be available with subscriptions to Alfresco Content Services.” That sounds like there will still be a way to do workflows within Alfresco, but it isn’t clear whether or not that will still be Activiti or something else.

This was a long post, but, as you can see, they had a lot to announce. On the whole, I think they are positive, necessary changes. Small customers that are trying to use Alfresco for a lot of things, particularly collaboration, may feel some pain as they will be forced to look elsewhere for that kind of functionality. Very large customers, who often leverage Alfresco only for the repository and almost always have a custom front-end, may not be affected at all, and to the extent they already use containers, may benefit.

Regardless of customer size, we’ll all benefit from a more svelte platform that Alfresco and the community are better able to support.

Photo Credit: Richard Summers, CC BY 2.0

What’s new in Alfresco Community Edition 5.1?

This post covers the significant new features of Alfresco Community Edition 5.1. I’ve also published a YouTube video that demos the new features.

New Release Names

Alfresco Community Edition 5.1, which you may see referenced as “201602-GA”, has been released. This is the first GA release of Alfresco Community Edition using the new release naming nomenclature. Let’s talk about that first, then I’ll give you the highlights of what’s new.

In the past, Community Edition releases were assigned letters. For example, the last release in the 5.0 line was 5.0.d. Historically, Alfresco would give no clues as to whether or not they considered that a stable or final release. Subsequently, people would just grab the latest release and install it, which led to all sorts of problems. (See “Alfresco Community Edition needs sensible version labels“).

Now, thankfully, Community Edition releases are either Early Access (EA) releases or Generally Available (GA) releases. The EA releases are essentially snapshot releases that are stable enough for the community to try out and provide feedback on. The GA releases are stable builds. If you are running Community Edition in production, you should be running GA releases, not EA releases.

So the release we are talking about is “201602-GA” which means it was released in February of 2016 and it is GA. I don’t know what they are going to do if they have two GA releases in the same month, but I guess we’ll deal with that if it happens. Given that GA releases do undergo testing by Alfresco QA, which can take some time, two releases within the same month may be unlikely.

Alfresco is actually a collection of components. Community Edition 201602GA contains Alfresco Platform 5.1.e, Alfresco Share 5.1.e, Aikau, AOS 1.1, and Google Docs 3.0.3. Notice that Aikau, the client-side UI framework Share is built on, is included in that list as a separate component. The UI framework has been de-coupled from the rest of the platform–it now follows its own release cycle.

I consider this an awesome new “feature”, but let’s talk about real functionality actually in 5.1 Community Edition.

Content Modeling UI

If you’ve used other document management solutions and are new to Alfresco you may be surprised to realize that before this release, all content modeling had to be done by manually editing XML files. I know, I know, but the ability to define a content model in the Share UI is here now, so let’s be thankful.

Here’s how it works. If you are in the ALFRESCO_MODEL_ADMINISTRATORS group you’ll get access to a new admin panel called “Model Manager”. Creating custom types and aspects is a simple matter of point-and-click.

model-manager-scmodelBeyond just defining the model, though, the UI also allows you to define the Share form configuration.

model-manager-layout-editorIt’s pretty cool, although there are limitations:

  • Not everything supported by the underlying repository is supported by the content modeling UI. For example, I could not set mandatory aspects on a type and I could not define associations.
  • You can declare that properties must adhere to a constraint, but you can’t define the constraint once and reuse it across multiple properties.
  • I created the content model from my Custom Content Types tutorial but ran into a little problem. You can only inherit from types in an active model. I have an enterprise-wide type called “sc:doc” that my other types inherit from. The workaround is to create your enterprise-wide type first, then activate the model, then create your child types. Or you can put the enterprise-wide type in its own separate model.
  • I could not create items that inherited from sys:base or cmis:item (for content-less objects).
  • The advanced search form does not get configured to include custom types and aspects defined using the modeling UI.

The ability to define a content model without editing XML is a much-needed feature and I’m sure it will continue to evolve. It is extremely useful in its current form despite the limitations I’ve outlined above, which you can work around by using traditional techniques for defining the content model and Share form configuration.

Smart Folders

How many times have you wanted a folder to consist of query results rather than what’s physically in the file? The new Smart Folders feature gives you that capability. Unfortunately, it’s a little tedious to set up–it involves manually editing a JSON file to define your virtual folder structure. But, once you do that, it opens up a lot of possibilities.

If you aren’t sure why you’d want to define a folder as the results of a query, think about how you like to organize your files versus how other teams or departments like to organize theirs. Often, folder structures are optimized based on the work being performed. When different people with different roles work on the same content, it can become hard to create a folder structure that meets the needs of all constituents. Smart Folders allow you to set up alternative folder structures based on arbitrary criteria.

Imagine a college that facilitates internship assignments on behalf of their students. The best way to organize internship applications submitted by students depends on the person’s role. A student wants to see their own application. A counselor might want to see all of the applications for the students assigned to them. An employer wants to see the applications submitted to their company. And the internships coordinator wants to see applications by status. Prior to Smart Folders there’s not a great way to make all of these constituents happy.

In addition to creating search-defined folder structures, Smart Folders provides the ability to assign document types, aspects, and metadata values to documents automatically as they are added to the repository. For example, if you are a paralegal adding deposition transcripts to a case you no longer have to assign the cause number, client’s last name, and the fact that it’s a deposition. That gets assigned automatically based on where you uploaded the document.

To get a better feel for this, check out the Smart Folders documentation and tutorial. Alfresco has done a great job with it.

One last thing on Smart Folders–you may be wondering if a Smart Folder is accessible via CMIS. The answer is yes. Smart Folders are “normal” folder objects with an extra aspect applied (“smf:smart”). This has the potential to simplify CMIS code. Instead of putting the query in the code, you can define it in the folder template and in CMIS, just get the folder’s children which will be the query results.

Default landing page

This is another frequently-requested feature: The ability for a user to define which page should be displayed upon logging in to Alfresco Share. Now it’s easy. Just navigate to the page you want to use as the default, click your user name, then click “Use Current Page” to set.


The next time you log in you’ll go to that page.

Become Owner UI action

Sometimes you have cases where you’d like to take over ownership of a document. One example is someone who has collaborator access. Collaborators can edit and delete documents they create because creators are owners. But maybe at some point you’d like them to be able to comment on documents in a folder but you don’t want them to edit documents even if they are the ones who uploaded them. One way to fix that is to have another user, such as a Coordinator, take over ownership of the document. This has always been possible, but before 5.1 you had to write your own script or UI action to make it happen. Now the UI action is available out-of-the-box.

AOS (Alfresco Office Services)

Alfresco Office Services is the new name for the re-implementation of the Microsoft SharePoint Protocol, which allows Microsoft Office products to enjoy native integration with the repository. If you have to use Microsoft’s office products at least you’ll be able to edit and save them directly to Alfresco.

While this is essentially the same functionality as the old SharePoint Protocol support, it does represent a significant change in Alfresco’s open source stance. Until now, all Alfresco Community Edition code has been 100% open source. Alfresco has chosen to include AOS with Community Edition, which is great, but it is distributed under a proprietary license. If that is a problem for you, the module is optional. You can still use the old open source implementation of the SharePoint Protocol, but it won’t be developed further by Alfresco. It sounds like they’ll spin it off as a separate open source project in case anyone is interested in maintaining it going forward.

jBPM has been jettisoned

Alfresco’s original embedded workflow engine was JBoss jBPM. Then, Activiti came along, and you could use either one. Eventually jBPM was marked as deprecated. With 5.1, jBPM has finally been removed from the release. Honestly, this should not be a surprise at all–you’ve had plenty of time to get your custom workflows moved over to Activiti.

SDK release lagged

I’m excited about the new release naming nomenclature and the new features. But one thing that is a little annoying is that the SDK that works with 5.1 lagged behind the release of the platform. So if you’ve got customizations that leverage the Alfresco Maven SDK, you couldn’t easily port those over in time for the release–you had to wait for the SDK. I haven’t heard whether or not this was a one-time occurrence or if this will always be the case.

Share Site type is gone

I’m not sure why it was removed or if it is coming back, but the “site type” dropdown has been removed from the “Create Site” dialog. Maybe Alfresco thought this feature wasn’t used much. If you’re using my Share Site Space Templates add-on, this will affect you because you won’t be able to specify a custom site preset that maps to your Share Site folder template. I haven’t looked at the source yet–it might not be a big deal to re-enable this.

missing-site-type-dropdownUPDATE: The Share Site type dropdown is not gone. It shows up when there is more than one type of site defined. This is a nice new feature in 5.1 because previously the dropdown would show up even if there was only a single choice.

That’s what’s new with Alfresco 5.1 Community Edition. Download it and try it out for yourself. If I’ve missed anything be sure to let me know in the comments.

And if you’d like to see any of these features live, check out my screencast:

(If the video doesn’t show up for you, here is the link).

Five new features in Alfresco 5.0 in about five minutes

Hopefully you saw that Alfresco 5.0.a Community Edition was released last week. Kevin Roast did a nice write-up on a few of the new features. I created a screencast based on his write-up. It is embedded below or use this link.

You might want to make the video full-screen and take the settings up to HD.

If you take a peek under the covers you’ll likely see that there are still some deprecated chunks of code hanging around, libraries that still need to be upgraded, and features you might have expected but that aren’t yet implemented. This is still an early release. You should expect several more named releases before Community Edition 5.0 stabilizes.

Use this release as a preview for what’s coming, to test your own add-ons, or to help find and report issues. If you are running Community Edition in production I’d stick with 4.2.f for now.

Alfresco Community Edition 4.2.e Now Available

Alfresco Community LogoThe Alfresco engineering team has just released Alfresco Community Edition 4.2.e (Download, Release Notes). This is the final Community Edition release in the 4.2 line before 4.2 Enterprise is released.

This Community Edition release is mainly fixes for bugs found since 4.2.d and contains no new major features.

In a recent press release, we announced that Alfresco One 4.2 as well as the much-anticipated Records Management 2.1 release will be available on October 29. However, on the 4.2.e file list page on the wiki I notice that there is an RM 2.1 module available for download.

If you need the source, the public SVN revision number for Alfresco Community 4.2.e is 56674 and it has been tagged as COMMUNITYTAGS/V4.2e.

New Activiti Release includes Designer Plug-in Enhancements

Did you know there’s a new release of Activiti out? Okay, it has been out since March but I’m just now getting around to saying something about it. I haven’t given the entire thing a thorough evaluation, but if you are using the Activiti Designer Eclipse plug-in, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to fool with two files for each process definition any longer (three files, if you count the PNG). Instead of a .activiti file and a .bpmn20.xml file, there is just a single .bpmn file.

The new Designer also supports modeling sub-processes. And, it is easier to work with boundary events than it was before.

If you have existing Activiti process definitions, you can open your old .bpmn20.xml files and save them as .bpmn files. Then you can delete your .activiti and .png files.

The version of Activiti embedded in Alfresco 4.0 (Community and Enterprise) is 5.7. I’m assured by the development team that processes edited with version 5.9 of the Designer will continue to work with 5.7. However, there may be some items on the palette that are not supported in older Activiti versions.

One thing to note about this release of the Eclipse plug-in: It no longer runs with Eclipse Helios. You’ll have to upgrade to Indigo.

Worldwide Alfresco 4.0 Community Release Party

You have probably heard that Alfresco 4.0 (formerly known by its codename, “Swift”) will be officially released in the Community edition at the end of September. I’ve been playing with the latest Community code sitting in subversion and I have to tell you that, although there are still plenty of issues to resolve, I’m getting pretty excited about the release.

I know I’m not the only one that’s been looking at 4.0 with building anticipation toward an official release. So here’s what I think we should do. Let’s celebrate. This year, the week of October 10 shall be known as the Week of Worldwide Alfresco 4.0 Community Release Party Meetups! Wherever you are in the world, pick a day that week and get together with 1, 10, or 100 other people and share why you’re excited about 4.0. It doesn’t have to be formal and you don’t have to go to a lot of trouble. Grab Community 4.0 from the download page when it becomes available (or use one of the nightly builds or build it yourself), install it, and give a demo. Or just get a conversation going about favorite new features, when/how you plan to upgrade, or how you are using Alfresco today. Exactly what you talk about doesn’t really matter–the point is to celebrate this major release.

I’ve already spoken to several of the local community organizers around the world and they are totally into it. Madrid, Paris, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Jakarta, The Netherlands, and Southern California are all likely to have events going on the week of October 10 to celebrate. I believe Germany will be doing some virtual meetups online. To help you find these and others that will hopefully be inspired to spring up, refer to this wiki page that lists new or still-forming meetup groups. If you don’t see one there, go to Alfresco Meetups Everywhere and sign up. When another person in your area signs up you can organize a time and a place to meet.

I really want to see this happen. And I know the way to an Alfresco Geek’s heart is through his or her stomach. So if you promote your plan to have a meetup the week of October 10 via Twitter, and then you post pictures of the event on Flickr tagged with “Alfresco”, you can submit your food receipt to me and I’ll reimburse you up to $100. If you plan to take advantage of this you must register your interest with me two weeks prior to your meetup date so I can get you the details. Just shoot an email to jpotts at alfresco dot com with your plans.

I’ll also try to get a “What’s New in Alfresco 4.0” presentation posted, maybe with some screencasts as well, to help with the content.

There you go: A major release of the software to the community, free food, and starter content. The only key ingredients remaining are you, your laptop, and a friend or two. What do you say? Are you in?

Alfresco 3.1 Enterprise is a significant release for WCM users

I don’t typically write a post every time a vendor releases a new version of software but Alfresco 3.1 Enterprise, which became available for download on Tuesday, is a significant release. Users of 2.2, who had previously been asked not to upgrade to 3.0, should now upgrade to either 2.2 SP3 or 3.1. All of the fixes in 2.2 SP3 are included in the 3.1 release. If you are currently on 2.2 SP3, the biggest reason to move to 3.1 would be to take advantage of Alfresco Share. Conservative users may decide to wait until 3.1.1.

One big change with 3.1 is that modified items are now merged with the Staging sandbox asynchronously. That means when submitting modified items, users are immediately returned to the sandbox list and will still see the modified items until they are committed. In a cursory test of this, I was surprised at how long it took for those changes to leave my Modified Items list. Maybe the polling interval is configurable.

This change affects the out-of-the-box WCM submission workflow. So if you created your own custom WCM submission workflow, you’re going to need to make some changes. The required changes are documented in the release notes, or you can take a look at the new submission workflow to get the gist.

Another new feature of Alfresco 3.1 is the REST API for WCM. A lot of URLs you probably already created on your own are included. The new API includes things like adding users to web projects, creating user sandboxes, creating, updating, and deleting assets, submitting assets, and more. Even if you already built these yourself, you should take a look to see if these meet your needs. Why continue to maintain your own custom code?

The 3.1 release also marks a shift in Alfresco’s “two flavors” approach. According to John Newton (post), Alfresco is looking for ways to entice large Enterprise users to migrate from Labs to Enterprise. So they’ve created functionality that they feel only appeals to large Enterprises and are making it available only to people paying for subscriptions. This includes things like monitoring (JMX, Hyperic plug-in), proprietary database extensions, and clustering.

Newton says 100% of the source code will still be available for both releases and that fixes made in Enterprise will be made available in the next Labs release (although he didn’t say how long Labs releases will lag behind Enterprise).

Other noteworthy 3.1 fixes or enhancements include:

  • No one (not even admin) can write to a Staging sandbox in WCM.
  • Share now includes a “Links” component (which means I don’t have to finish coding the “Bookmarks” component we started but never finished). There are numerous other Share enhancements around Calendar, rich text editing, and previewing.
  • Actions can now have AND/OR conditions and can trigger on property values.
  • A new group called ALFRESCO_ADMINISTRATORS has been created that makes it much easier to designate administrator users other than admin.

See the release notes for a full list of Jira tickets addressed by the release.