Open Source ECM Project Launched

After four months of developer scrutiny, Alfresco is seeing the light of day with the general availability of the open source enterprise content management (ECM) application, officials announced Monday.

Alfresco is the brainchild of John Newton, co-founder of commercial ECM vendor Documentum, and John Powell, former COO at Business Objects. The two delivered a technology preview of the application in June, which prompted more than 25,000 downloads in the first two months, and have been busy getting the software ready for its prime-time launch.

Alfresco builds upon the ECM premise, collating structured and unstructured data on the network, with an emphasis on Java-based technology in Web services and service-oriented architectures , rather than through a client-server model.

The team hopes to deliver the cost benefits of an open source ECM product together with an enterprise-grade service for companies that need software support that their IT staffs can’t deliver.

“Nobody’s really doing enterprise content management,” said Ian Howells, Alfresco chief marketing officer. “There are a lot of Web content managers out there, but no one’s doing an open source equivalent of the enterprise content management players, and it’s a big opportunity — it’s a $2.5 billion market — with half of it done through services.”

Now that it’s launched, Alfresco faces the challenges of an entrenched market of commercial ECM vendors: EMC , which bought Newton’s Documentum for $1.7 billion in 2003); Interwoven; Vignette; FileNet; Microsoft and Oracle.

One of the first things Alfresco did was to partner with a like-minded company, in this case JBoss. Like JBoss, Alfresco offers the software free under the Lesser General Public License and delivers revenues through premium services around the software.

Alfresco integrates with a number of JBoss offerings, including its portal and application servers, Hibernate and JBoss Cache.

Services are broken down into three tiers: Developer Network for $4.99/month per user; Professional Network for $9.99/month per user; and Enterprise Network for $625/month with unlimited users.

The next step was to make it as accessible as possible to a wide variety of platforms:

  • runs on Windows, Linux, Unix and Apple’s Mac OS X
  • uses Spring, MyFaces, Hibernate, OpenOffice, Java 1.5, PDFBox and others for its technological underpinnings
  • supports the JBoss Application Server, Apache Tomcat, BEA WebLogic and WebSphere Application Server
  • runs on the JBoss Portal, eXo Portal or any Java Specification Request 168 (JSR-168) compliant portal
  • maps to MySQL, Oracle or any other database supported by Hibernate
  • versions in 8 different languages

One of the strengths of this open source project, compared to the vast majority of them, is the market clout Newton and Powell bring to the table. Both are able to call upon a wide of enterprise contacts, a foot-in-the-door opportunity that isn’t common.

They’ve lined up a number of customers to test the product in an enterprise setting. One of them is research and services firm Informa, a U.S.-based company with 7,000 employees and 159 offices worldwide; another is Red Managed Services, with 3,000 employees and a popular online jobs directory.

Their work has prompted interest among the industry, as well. According to Howells, they’ve been invited to participate in the Java Community Process (JCP) work on JSR-283, Content Repository for Java Technology API v2, and the Association for Information and Image Management’s interoperable ECM initiative.

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