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Where content meets technology

Jan 13, 2012

Legacy reports available

If you read Content Here through RSS or just follow links to individual articles, you may have missed my new publications page. In addition to listing some articles that I have published on other sites, the publications page now includes reports that I used to sell here at Content Here. I have not kept these reports up to date with the technologies that they cover but the background information and selection strategies are still very relevant. They are posted up on Scribd where they are free to read. You may find the following reports particularly interesting.

  • Open Source Web Content Management in Java

    This was Content Here's first report. It reviewed 7 open source Java web content management systems (Alfresco, Apache Lenya, Daisy, Hippo, Jahia, Magnolia, and OpenCms). While the individual product reviews are all out of date, the first 20 pages of the 173 page report contain useful information on the rise of open source content management and how evaluating open source platforms is different from commercial platforms

  • Open Source Web Content Management in Alfresco

    This is the Alfresco review from Open Source Web Content Management in Java but updated to version 3.1 which was released in April of 2009.

  • Drupal for Publishers

    This is my most recent report. It was published in 2009 and covers Drupal 6.10. The interesting thing about this format is that it reviewed Drupal from the perspective of a publisher. The report is broken up into 3 sections: "what the publisher needs to know," "what the editor needs to know," and "what the developer needs to know." I think that much of the general commentary is still very relevant.

Apr 30, 2010

Jeff Potts strikes out on his own with Metaversant

My friend and former Optaros colleague Jeff Potts recently announced that he has left Optaros to form a new company called Metaversant. Jeff was Optaros' superstar Alfresco guy. He put Optaros on the Alfresco map and contributed to the Alfresco community by writing a great book (The Alfresco Developer Guide), maintaining useful information on his blog, and also publicly pushing Alfresco in the right direction. Jeff is a charter member of my informal "Content Here Information Partner (CHIPs)" network and I have regular briefings with him to keep up to date on all things Alfresco.

Since Optaros has shifted its strategy to focus on the intersection of community, commerce, and content, Alfresco's position as a core offering has diminished. Alfresco is more oriented toward file-based collaboration, intranets, and digital asset management than social publishing and commerce. Metaversant will focus on training and advising Alfresco customers. I admire Jeff's expertise in and passion and I know that he will be successful in this new venture. He will certainly get referrals from me.

Nov 11, 2009

Hints of change at Alfresco

I am beginning to see hints at serious changes happening within Alfresco. Historically the company has essentially operated as a commercial software company with a closed development model (that is, an internal opaque development team) and an open source version that was treated like shareware ("start using it and, if you like it, pay for the real product."). Gradually, Alfresco has been opening up to be more transparent and developer friendly. For example, now you can get the source of the Enterprise Edition. You just need to pay an annual subscription to use the compiled version if you want to get support.

Recent blog posts by Matt Asay (Alfresco's VP of Business Development) and John Newton (CTO) make me think there is more change to come. First, in April Matt wrote this post on how the (very permissive) Apache Software License is better than the GPL. That had me scratching my head because Alfresco uses the GPL license which is very strong at protecting IP. Alfresco had already loosened up a bit by providing a "FLOSS Exception" where a developer working on another project with another OSI approved license can incorporate Alfresco under that license. But the full Apache Software License goes much further. If Alfresco was Apache licensed, Oracle could embed Alfresco in one of their commercial software products for free.

Then John Newton wrote a post talking about the virtues of professional open source and described Alfresco as a company that made money entirely from support. At the time, I didn't really believe him because the terms felt like you needed to pay to use supportable software rather than pay for the support itself. I know this is a minor distinction but a support contract seems easier to walk away from than an annual subscription to use software. Still, I guess it would be possible to downgrade to a version of the Enterprise Edition that you compiled yourself.

More recently, Matt comes up with this article that is critical of "fauxpen source:" products that come out of a closed development process but are distributed under an open source license. He writes:

In the future, I think we'll see this "fauxpen-ness" fade as companies clearly separate their open-source efforts from their revenue models. Open source can provide a platform for monetization, but it isn't the best way to actually generate cash. Not for most companies, anyway.
I take this to mean that software companies will start to leverage the open source development model and get their revenue from sources other than renting out the IP of the software. Matt doesn't mention Day Software but that is clearly what Day is doing. Day sells commercial software products (CQ5 and the CRX) but heavily invests in components (JackRabbit and Sling) that they have donated to the Apache Software foundation for open development. They use these Apache components in their products and encourage their competitors to do so too. Similarly, IBM invests in lots of Apache projects and Eclipse. Ex-Alfrescan Kevin Cochrane now works at Day and I am wondering if he is convincing his former co-workers on this strategy. I wonder if, now that there is a sufficient developer community, Alfresco will start to put development of some of their components (like their CIFS implementation or their Surf framework) out in the open where more people can contribute to it.

If this is what is happening, (and now I am really speculating) it could mean one of two things. One, Alfresco has reached a size and level of profitability that it can afford to let go of some immediate revenue to fuel some longer term growth. Two, Alfresco is less focused on creating a company with a tight grip on IP that it can quickly sell. Either way, I am very interested in how this plays out and will be watching for Alfresco components being released into an active development community.

Disclosure I do not have any inside information on Alfresco and am speculating based on what I read on the web. I may be (and probably am) totally wrong.

Sep 14, 2009

New Alfresco Review

I am pleased to announce an updated version of my Open Source Web Content Management in Alfresco report. The report evaluates Alfresco Enterprise 3.1's WCM capabilities for both traditional web publishing and as a framework for building dynamic web applications. Like all Content Here reports, Open Source Web Content Management in Alfresco is highly technical and gets into details that a potential buyer should know. In writing the update, I interviewed systems integrators and technology managers from customer companies for their candid opinions of the product and the software vendor. I have also personally evaluated Alfresco, supporting documentation, and third party books. I can safely say that you are not going to get a more thorough and unbiased evaluation of Alfresco anywhere — not even if you pay several times the $200 price.

Long time readers know that Open Source Web Content Management Alfresco was originally published in February 2008 as part of a larger report called Open Source Web Content Management in Java. Because all of the products reviewed in that report have undergone significant upgrades, I have been selling it at a deep discount. The front matter that explains the marketplace and significant portions of the evaluations are still accurate and relevant so I have decided to offer a bundled product consisting of the original report plus the updated Alfresco review for $400 — that is still 50% off of the original list price. As I complete updates to the different reviews, I will add them to the bundle and incrementally raise the price to the original full price.

If you are evaluating Alfresco for web content management, save yourself time and reduce your risk buy purchasing Open Source Web Content Management in Alfresco. If you work for a Java shop and are starting to consider open source alternatives to commercially licensed web content management software, consider the Open Source Web Content Management in Java bundle.

Sep 01, 2009

Jeff Potts explains the difference between Alfresco's DM and AVM Repositories

Jeff Potts has written an excellent article explaining the functional differences between Alfresco's two different repositories (the original DM and the WCM). The enclosed chart is a useful cheat sheet that belongs on any Alfresco developers cubicle. Nice work Jeff!

For those of you who are new to Alfresco, the WCM repository (or AVM: Advanced Versioning Model) was introduced to the platform when Alfresco added web content management. The AVM is designed for managing structured XML content and does very cool things like snapshots and contributor "sandboxes." But the AVM is slower than the original DM repository and has less powerful metadata capabilities. Typically, web content will be managed as XML in the AVM and then pushed over to a cluster of DM repositories to power a dynamic website.

Feb 24, 2009



Jeff Potts recently announced the general availability of an integration between Drupal and Alfresco. The integration uses CMIS and could potentially connect Drupal to any CMIS compliant repository. While I would call this type of Drupal configuration experimental (that is, don't try to run The Onion on it), it does show potential. Alfresco's focus on web content management has been as an extension of internal collaboration (i.e. publishing internal knowledge assets out onto the web). Alfresco doesn't have a strong vision on pure web publishing or hosting community websites. The front end delivery part of Alfresco is just emerging through its Surf framework. Drupal, conversely, is all about the front end. There is a similar Alfresco integration available for Joomla!, which provides a menu set that reads from an Alfresco repository. This integration also uses CMIS as an interface.

My main hesitation with recommending this configuration (or the Joomla! one for that matter) to my clients right now is that the Alfresco repository is not fast enough to be the runtime behind a high traffic website - certainly not the AVM and probably not the DM either right now. Most Alfresco powered websites publish flat HTML pages or push out the content as XML to be rendered by a de-coupled delivery tier (see deployment patterns). There is an integration that puts OpenCMS in front of Alfresco, but that works by replicating a folder in the repository over to the OpenCMS repository (see my write up here). That seems more scalable from a traffic perspective.

In the near term, I think that the best use for this integration is for customers who use Alfresco for their Intranet and want to publish some of their internally-managed documents out to low-traffic pages on their website (perhaps some PDFs of investor relations documents or job application forms). In the longer term, performance and scalability of the Alfresco repository are expected to improve. Performance is a key focus for the next releases (3.1 and 3.2). In particular, they are building the infrastructure for improved load testing so they can optimize for intensive concurrent access by thousands of users. These improvements will certainly make a fully Alfresco-backed, high traffic Drupal or Joomla! site more viable.