Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Alfresco Document Management in Pictures, Part I

Alfresco makes a great Document Management system. If you're struggling with network folders and the problems they bring, check out this pictures with commentary. If they don't convince you to try Alfresco, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Spaces: Your Smart Folders in Alfresco

In Alfresco we have "spaces" taking the place of folders. Like folders, you can create deep hierarchies, add short cuts, copy and paste things around. You can even treat them as network folders, letting users familiar with shared folders browse them as if nothing had changed.

But underneath, they are much more powerful. Let's see some of the things they can do.

Space Details: A galaxy of possibilities!

There's a lot of familiar stuff here... copying, deleting, renaming, different views (Icon, Details, Browse... similar to Windows) but a lot more besides.

Dashboard view: choose your own user interface options for displaying spaces with loads of content in a simple way.

Categorization: folder hierarchies are limited, and Spaces gets around this with categories. Lots of times you'll have a folder for a client -- say -- but the subfolders for that will be pretty standard: invoices, letters, incoming mail, or whatever. An accountant might only be interested in the Invoices folders for a load of clients. He won't want to browse through each individual client looking for invoices. Using categories means that you can easily group spaces of a similar type -- regardless of the hierarchy they might be in.

RSS: what if your staff need to know when particular folders are updated? You don't want them checking the folder every day, do you? But you don't want them to forget about it either. Let your staff subscribe to an RSS feed for the space... and they'll always know when the latest version of the email usage guidelines, or whatever, have been updated.

All the cool options in the right hand column: have a look at it. A lot of them are the same old thing familiar to any Windows user, but there's plenty of new ones too. For example you can email all users of a space in one go... perfect for announcing important changes. Or you can associate a discussion with a space... so talk about a project can occur right where the essential project files are stored.

Create HTML Right In Alfresco

Do all your documents need to be hefty Word files? For simple internal documents such as help files and the old favorite guidelines, lightweight HTML means you can view and edit content right in the browser. Just create a new HTML document and edit away...

Adding Word, Excel, and other files... the meat of document management

Of course, you won't want to do everything with HTML. I know what you really want... a better way to organize those often dull but always essential business documents. Here's how you add content into Alfresco.

In the next post, I'll show you what you can do once you've added it. So be sure to subscribe and come back later.

Want to learn exactly how to get the most from Alfresco for document management and much more? Then buy the book Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Implementation, by Munwar Shariff.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What?! Another Open Source CMS?

When I talk to people about Alfresco, I can tell what they're thinking: how on earth can the world need another free open source CMS?

I can understand why, but here's what they're missing. Just about every CMS you've seen before is a web CMS. They are there to manage web content. Whether you're using it for a web site or your intranet, they're all for building content-driven web sites. Joomla, Drupal, Typo3, Ez Publish are all primarily about web pages: news, profiles, forums, and so on.

Alfresco is completely different. As an enterprise CMS, it exists to manage enterprise content.

Think of the enterprise content you use every day. At Packt, I'm working with sales records, book proposal documents, chapter drafts, guideline documents, and contracts every single day.

And boy is it awkward. It's all in shared folders. Shared files and folders are extremely hard to work with. The fact is that most of us can't manage our own My Documents folder and Desktops properly... much less store files in a place that will make sense to anybody else.

Something needs to manage this content, and if I'm stuck with shared folders it's not going to be me!

Alfresco, and Enterprise Content Management Systems in general, provide a solution to this.

When I was reading Munwar's drafts, I was overwhelmed by how useful Alfresco could be in Packt... and in any business that relies on sharing documents and files between staff members.

Here are just a few of the things I saw covered in the book (relatively early too... it gets much more powerful towards the end):
  • Make shared folders smart drop files into a big catch all folder, and have Alfresco figure out the best place to put it... based on rules that you can define
  • Smart versioning... never worry about manually backing up a shared file every time you make a tiny change. Alfresco can keep track of versions automatically, allowing you to look back at earlier versions whenever you want.
  • Search content... so you can find the stuff you need, wherever it is.
So this is not just another variant on Joomla!, Drupal, or Typo3. It's a completely new beast. And it's one you should seriously consider learning about, if you or your clients struggle to keep their shared digital content organized, findable, and managed.

PS With Alfresco 1.4 (which our book covers), Alfresco can act as a web CMS as well as an enterprise CMS. So maybe it is another Joomla!, but Java. Check out samaxes' description of Alfresco, much more in depth than mine.

Alfresco vs. Documentum... Alfresco on the up

It looks like Alfresco could be beating Documentum in terms of search volume by the end of 2007. Here's the current results on Google Trends (Documentum is boring blue, Alfresco is firey red!):

Maybe Alfresco will be in the lead in time for the book's publication in December!