Alfresco Airs Open Source ECM

John Newton, co-founder of enterprise content management (ECM) developer Documentum, and John Powell, former Business Objects COO, are using their expertise — and industry clout — to build an open source content management system (CMS) called Alfresco.

A technology review of the source code and binaries, which will be available for download at the project’s Web site Monday, is the project’s first attempt at creating a community around the content management software before the final release of the application in late 2005.

The group set its sights high with a dearth of open source alternatives, and it’s looking to capture market share in an area dominated by commercial ECM vendors, such as SAP , Oracle , EMC and Microsoft .

“There isn’t a lot out there that is prominent right now, and there’s practically nothing in terms of enterprise content management,” said Newton, who is also Alfresco CTO. “The way the entire enterprise software industry is going right now, it was absolutely inevitable that somebody was going to break into this space and become the MySQL of enterprise content management, and that’s what we’re about.”

Alfresco uses an emulation of the Common Internet File System (CIFS) to make it look like users are accessing a corporate shared drive, when in fact they are accessing the corporate repository of content.

It also lets users take work offline and synchronize when reconnecting. More importantly, CIFS provides Alfresco with Microsoft Windows file system compatibility, the first open source project to have such a capability, officials say.

The repository is architected using aspect-oriented programming (AOP), which allows developers to add new functionality to the program without having to duplicate code. The repository’s capabilities include authentication, full-text indexing and retrieval, metadata, versioning, locking and classifications.

The portlets that put a face on Alfresco are developed using Java standards, such as JavaServer Faces and the Java portlet specification, which integrates with any other portal using the same standard. Hibernate 3.0 will be used to map internal objects to the database, which for the time being will be MySQL, though officials plan to add support for other databases in future releases.

While the Alfresco project has been around for some time, Newton and a group of developers he recruited from Documentum, which is now a division of EMC, built the code from the ground up to make the software available under the Lesser General Public License (LGPL).

The license is similar in many ways to the GPL, except that it doesn’t place copyleft restrictions on software that links to the application — particularly proprietary software. This makes it more palatable for businesses running open source software.

Newton and Powell, the group’s CEO, have been funding the project since joining but received help with $2 million in seed money from U.K.-based Accel Partners earlier this month.

Alfresco comes at a time when the ECM market is ready for open source, Newton said. A clear indicator of the shift can be seen in the $2.5 billion ECM market, he said, where services revenue now make up a majority of that money, not new licenses. It’s happened before in other areas, he continued, such as application servers, databases and operating systems.

What Newton and Powell bring to the table, which puts them ahead of the many other open source ECM projects, is their industry clout. Newton, with his former ties to Documentum’s clientele, and Powell, with his own from Business Objects network, have access to the decision-makers at many Fortune 1000 companies.

Newton wouldn’t say how many companies are in line to test out Alfresco in their organizations, or even which ones, but he said there were a number of major banks and online services involved.

Outside the seed money and industry clout, Newton expects Alfresco to stand above other open source projects on the merits of its technology.

“There are a lot of open source content management systems out there today, but what they really are is Web content management that’s really more like Web site management,” he said. “Most of them don’t have any notion of a repository or reuse, and 99 percent of them are code you upload to your ISP to manage your Web site.”

News Around the Web