Review: Alfresco Developer Guide [Part I]

Alfresco Developer Guide Alfresco Developer Guide: Customizing Alfresco with actions, web scripts, web forms, workflows, and more

Jeff Potts

Okay, I know what your thinking, an Alfresco book review? Where did he find the time and what about Documentum? It is simple, I haven’t found the time. Not yet at least.  This is going to be a multi-post review. More on that in a few paragraphs.

As for Documentum, it isn’t going anywhere. Regardless of what I might say, especially when I critique EMC World, I like the product more than ever. However, as Tony Byrne of CMS Watch likes to say, Every ECM product is perfect for at least one organization [paraphrasing]. For some, the answer isn’t a traditional ECM vendor or SharePoint. For some, the answer is Open Source. It may be the right answer based on the organizations infrastructure or it is just a strategy decided upon by the CIO.

There is the question of “Why Alfresco? Why not Nuxeo or some other open source provider?” I could tell you I went through an exhaustive survey and detailed research, but it boils down to three simple reasons:

  1. I enjoyed working with their team during the CMIS demo for AIIM (true for all of the vendors)
  2. They are scheduled for DoD 5015.2 Records Management certification in September of 2009
  3. Somebody asked me to review an Alfresco book written by Jeff Potts

There you have it.  My selection criteria, which like many customers, isn’t based on the technology.  That leads me back into my previous point…the time issue. I started reading Jeff’s book on my commute today and came to a realization, I’m going to have to actual use Alfresco to determine how well the book is written.  That is going to require me to try the examples, which is something very challenging to do on my daily commute. People don’t like it when I use two or three seats on the metro or the bus.

So I am going to treat each Chapter as its own unit to review, and do it in my house.  I am going to try a large number of the examples and see how it goes.  I will gather overall thoughts for a wrap-up post that will contain links to all the individual posts.  This will be a long process, so bear with me. I think the result should be interesting.

Keep in mind that the book is a year old and talks about the Enterprise 2.2 version and Labs 3.0 preview. Both are now on version 3.1 with a 3.2 preview version available for the Labs edition. Trying the code samples out with the latest version of Alfresco will also help test the shelf life of the book. I will have to note when I think any issues I have are version related versus book related. Jeff can’t be held accountable for changes in Alfresco, just for not getting an updated version out if there are lots of differences.

On to Chapter 1…

Chapter 1: The Alfresco Platform

There are no examples to try out, so I was able to read this chapter on my commute today. It was well written and covered the highlights of the Alfresco architecture.  It defined all of the basic terms, though a few of them (like CIFS and WebDAV) were defined a few pages after they were first used. While I wouldn’t say I understand all of the details, Jeff makes an effort to point out that we, the reader, should know the architecture fairly well by the end of the book.  The point in this chapter was to get a basic feel for the architecture to setup the subsequent chapters.

Jeff lays out the basics of what ECM is, points out that people have differing definitions, but stresses that it really isn’t important in this context. I’d have to agree with him. If I’m trying to customize Alfresco, which would be the primary reason I would open this book, the definition of ECM isn’t the burning question. Knowing that Alfresco can be used as a platform for ECM solutions is what is important to me.

Another key point of the first chapter are the concepts of Document Management and Web Content Management. These are presented as the two strengths of Alfresco. Jeff stresses that the Document Management is the foundation of other ECM solutions, such as Digital Asset Management, that Alfresco can be used to solve.  The extra focus on WCM is due to the extra components that Alfresco provides to make it an effective tool for WCM.

I think the most important lesson is that I will be working hard. Jeff mentions that many things can be done through configuration and then refers to Munwar Shariff’s book, Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Implementation (looks like an updated version is in the works). Sounds like that might be a good book to start reading first. As I only have time for one Alfresco book at the moment, I’ll have to test the learning curve of Alfresco with Jeff’s guidance.

On the whole, this chapter is a good start to the book. Stay tuned for my Chapter 2 review in a few days.

Disclaimer [Added 12/1/2009]

I received a free copy of this book to review.  As of this update, the link no longer credits me with any sales from this site. To my knowledge, none were ever credited.

4 thoughts on “Review: Alfresco Developer Guide [Part I]

  1. doquent says:

    It is heartening to see you explore Alfresco. Even though Documentum has been earning my bread-and-butter for some time now, two years ago I started exploring Alfresco for couple of reasons. I am fond of open source options when they are good. Further, at that time, I had walked away from the safety of a paycheck (had steady jobs over previous ten years). I needed to diversify my skills to keep them marketable to a larger customer base. I found that it could serve core content management needs for many organizations. The platform has been evolving and I am really glad to see it on the world stage with the big players.

    As far as reviewing this book goes, some reviews exist today (see this post and reviews on Amazon). Though you should not let them influence your review it might be worth corroborating or challenging the statements made in those reviews.

    Thanks for taking the time for an in-depth review of this book and sharing with others.


    • Thanks for the links, advice, and encouragement. I’ll look at the other reviews, after I am done reading. I try for a clean slate on these things.


  2. Great minds must think alike! I just finished reading “Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Implementation” and just got “Alfresco Developer’s Guide” in the mail yesterday.

    The Enterprise Content Management book has a good overview and was useful for me in introducing the architecture and overall concepts. The security model is entirely different than DCTM, but I guess it has to be to make it less complex. I’m looking forward to reading the Developer’s Guide and start playing around with Alfresco configuration and customization.

    One of these days, I’ll get back to blogging, instead of just commenting on your blog. I do appreciate your continual contribution to the community PIE.


    • Thanks Johnny. Looking forward to you getting back into blogging. I’ll try and keep the reviews churning to try and keep a useful pace for you to comment upon as I go.


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