Friday, February 15, 2008

Document Management with Alfresco "on rails"

For a couple of month I am working for a large international company, where I am helping on introducing a new and open source document management system. The power of open source and thus of Alfresco opposed to other closed source packages, is the open interfaces and the easiness of adding custom features. Whatever solution you chose, you should be sure that the package is enterprise ready. A document management system should provide a way to automate your business processes, to make the document transformations needed, provide metadata management and especially provide a friendly user interface.

My opinion is that Alfresco has a really powerful core but is still lacking some of enterprise level services. For document transformations Alfresco uses OpenOffice which is used as a server side application while OpenOffice was developed to be more client side oriented. The primary Alfresco user interface is implemented with Java Server Faces (JSF) and does not provide a nice and usable front end for the common user.

A cool feature of Alfresco that I really do appreciate are webscripts, through which are/will be exposed all the Alfresco functionalities via a REST like interface. This kind of approach will allow Alfresco to be easily decoupled from the JSF user interface.

It seems to me that Alfresco is trying to be a collaboration platform and not only a document management system. As I already said, Alfresco has a really good core and I would like to know why do they not focus on improving it and on providing an easy way to create new models via a user interface for example and not through several xml and configuration files. The first thing to provide in order to be a collaboration platform is to have a calendaring system, which Alfresco does not have. Wouldn't implementing CalDAV over their WebDAV implementation be a good start? Sometimes ago I tried to implement it and it does not seem complicated, if somebody is interested I would like to share that idea and the implementation.

To conclude, soon Alfresco will probably offer a new user interface implementation based on web scripts and AJAX and they will provide some Flex components which is a very good thing, that will be a nice move. Finally, I would like that they stop implementing some pseudo collaboration and just focus on real enterprise collaboration.