Friday, February 23, 2007

Alfresco Book Review

I imagine it was a great challenge to write the first book on the new Alfresco open source enterprise content management system. Enterprise content management is a deliberately broad field with a diverse audience of stakeholders. Alfresco is a powerful but new and rapidly evolving product with, as one might expect, thin documentation. I am happy that Munwar Shariff undertook this challenge to write Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Implementation.

The target audience of the book appears to be a technical person who is evaluating and getting started with Alfresco. There is good information about the architectural principles and the range of uses for the product. There are also some instructions and recommendations for installing the product. As I recommended in my review of Munwars book Plone book (Plone Live), I would consider removing the installation section because that is one of the things that is well covered in the Alfresco documentation. However, the recommendations around the configuration options are helpful.

Also, it may have been a little ambitious to cover strategies for initiating and managing an Enterprise Content Management project. That is the topic of several other books on content management (Definitely read The Content Management Bible by Bob Boiko) and software development.

The core strength of this book is as an aid to explore the functionality of the Alfresco web client and to learn how to configure and extend it. As with most Java applications, most of Alfresco's behavior is managed through a series of XML files. The examples of how to manipulate these files in the book and as part of an accompanying download are very good. And when you go through these exercises and open up the files you can't help but notice other settings that might be useful to modify as well. I think it would be helpful to discuss the underlying technologies that support the Alfresco platform and also tips for tuning the software to meet the performance and availability demands of an actively used implementation. But those topics might be more appropriate for an advanced book. For an Alfresco beginner (and there are a lot of people who fit that description out there), this book is a great introduction.