One of the challenges of working within today's enterprise space is trying to juggle a multitude of web applications to handle all of your company's needs. You may be able to meet a significant number of those needs with a single application: Alfresco. This enterprise content management portal uses multiple software packages to provide document management, web content, records management, and general collaboration.
The Alfresco Community Edition is licensed under the LGPL, while the Enterprise edition, which includes proprietary code, has a proprietary license.
You have a few choices for implementing Alfresco. First, you should decide whether you want to run it in the cloud, or install it on premises. Both approaches offer no-cost options. While I recommend starting with the Community Edition on premises, more complex installations might benefit from a Standard or Enterprise Network subscription, each of which offer integration with SharePoint, security reporting, and web-based training.
Alfresco is primarily an enterprise content management tool, though it provides a wide range of functionality, notably including simple website content creation tools bundled with document collaboration. Alfresco can handle content for both a public website and an internal intranet quite nicely. In many ways, Alfresco is similar to content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, but it differs from WordPress by focusing on document collaboration rather than merely providing a blogging platform.
Comparing Alfresco and WordPress
Alfresco offers content management features, as applications like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla do, but it offers many more features than just content management, and it scales better than those applications. Should you require greater server resources from Alfresco, the software will adapt with you. Both the web content management and collaboration options are limited only by the server your Alfresco installation happens to be on.
In order for, say, WordPress to offer functionality that matches even half of what Alfresco can provide, it requires plugins for stronger user handling, document collaboration, and other base features found with Alfresco. By contrast, Alfresco offers limited caching, database replication, load balancing, and FTP support. While WordPress can offer some of these features via plugins, it cannot match Alfresco's load balancing and limited caching.
WordPress relies on a web interface almost immediately for installation and configuration. Alfresco, on the other hand, has the option to use either a GUI or command-line setup, then later moves into configuration via web browser.
Once it's set up at the most basic level, WordPress is ready to use. With Alfresco, you must continue to set up the components you plan to use, including the one for web content management.
WordPress and Alfresco both use plugins to extend their platforms' functionality. More plugins are available for WordPress than for Alfresco, but of course Alfresco offers more capabilities in its core software.
Additional differences between the two content systems includes the database options available to each. WordPress relies on MySQL, while Alfresco can use MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle Database, and Microsoft SQL Server databases.
Perhaps the most significant difference is the scope of the two applications. WordPress in basically blogging software. While it can be used as a CMS, it requires specialized plugins to support a large number of users, content order management, advanced menuing, and other back-end controls that expand on what WordPress can do out of the box. By contrast, Alfresco offers nearly everything WordPress does, along with added functionality. Alfresco is better suited for managing large volumes of documents right after initial installation.
In this article we'll focus on two primary aspects of Alfresco by installing and configuring the Community Edition and administering it for collaboration and web content management.
You can download a 64-bit executable file that runs a setup wizard that installs everything you need, including the PostgreSQL database and JDK, with the command wget http://dl.alfresco.com/release/community/build-4003/alfresco-community-4.0.d-installer-linux-x64.bin. Make the downloaded bin file executable with the command chmod +x alfresco-community-4.0.d-installer-linux-x64.bin, then run it.
chmod +x alfresco-community-4.0.d-installer-linux-x64.bin
The first choice the wizard asks you to make is the installation type: default or advanced. They differ in the level of control over how Alfresco is installed and to which location. We'll use the Advanced option, which lets you install Alfresco with the default options and configuration, but gives you a chance to choose options that allow for additional functionality, such as hosting web content. Make sure that Web Quick Start is selected if you want to host web content using Alfresco; we'll go over how to do that in a moment. If you know you will be using Alfresco only for internal document collaboration, you can leave this option deselected.
The next screen asks you for a database port number; stick with the default unless you know you need a different one. You can also use the defaults on the next screen, which asks for the web server domain, plus a number of ports, and the ones after, which let you specify FTP ports. Eventually you must specify an administrator username, then click through a couple more default selections for SharePoint and OpenOffice port numbers.
The last important prompt asks whether you wish Alfresco to start up automatically when the server boots, or whether you should start it manually when you want to run it. If you're managing your own server, I recommend auto. Click next, then next again, and Alfresco will begin the installation process. Once it finishes, select the check box that starts Alfresco. You should then see a new browser page open to http://127.0.0.1:8080/share, which is the initial landing page for Alfresco Share.
A dashboard at the top of the Alfresco Share landing page lays out the bulk of the controls for an administrator. Below the dashboard, a welcome message provides links to pages where you can learn more about using Alfresco. The three main links let you view tutorials, create a publicly viewable site in Alfresco, and edit your profile.
An Alfresco profile provides details about a user, such as name and contact information, and assigns software permissions to the user. Click on the link to update your profile information. Specify your name, location, and company and contact information, and upload an image (64x64 pixels) to use as an avatar, then click on Save Changes.
It's perfectly fine to use an administrator account for everyday tasks, but if you feel security-conscious, Alfresco lets you create secondary accounts with reduced user privileges.
Now back to that dashboard. The My Dashboard area at the top of the main page displays links to what Alfresco calls dashlets, providing a single user interface for important aspects of your user account. You can change your dashboard by clicking on Customize Dashboard. After the page refreshes, you presented with two options. The first option lets you change the layout by adjusting settings such as how many columns Alfresco displays. The second option allows you to add or remove dashlets, which we'll do in a moment. Items such as My Sites (a dashlet that lists Alfresco sites available to you), My Activities (a display for items added, edited, or deleted from Alfresco), My Tasks (for tracking tasks assigned by you), and My Documents (for tracking recently modified documents you own) are all available from the dashboard.
In Alfresco, a site is considered a project area that allows you to create and share content and collaborate with other site members. The collaboration possibilities ranges from working with other site members on web content to sharing offline documents. Each Alfresco site is created by the portal's administrator to handle shared tasks and goals. An Alfresco installation can support a large number of sites created to address a wide range of team goals.
When you create a new site, Alfresco asks you to enter a site name, description, and whether to create a public or private site. A private site is available only to members you invite to participate with it, while a public site is visible to both members and non-members. Once a site is created as public or private, it stays that way – you can't change this setting. Once you've selected a site name, Alfresco will create a URL for it. After you click OK and return to the Alfresco Share landing page, you can click Sites, and you will see listed the new site that you created.
You can invite non-members to become members of your Alfresco site and begin collaborating on a project. To invite or manage members, browse to Sites at the top of any page, then click the name of a site you created. Once that page loads, you will see a wide yellow area with options for Inviting and Collaborating. We'll start off with the inviting new Members option, which is also available from the Members area at the upper center of the Share page you created earlier.
To invite new members, browse to http://127.0.0.1:8080/share/page/site/name-of-the-testsite/invite. At the bottom of the page, look for Add External Users. An External User is simply an individual who hasn't yet been invited to join your Alfresco site. Enter the first and last name and the email address for the new user, then click the Add button. On the right side of the page, select a role for that user. Roles provides sets of privileges; for example, a Contributor role might allow members to write and edit content, but not publish or unpublish it. Someone with slightly greater privileges would be set up as an Editor. Read about user roles and choose the role that's best for the user you want to add, then click the Invite button. When prompted for a user and password, enter your Alfresco admin user information. After the process is completed, a small box appears to indicate the successful emailing of the invitation.
When someone is invited by the administrator to join an Alfresco site, he can confirm joining the site by clicking a link in the email invitation. Once a user accepts your invitation, he can collaborate with you on shared projects. Depending on the roles you assign, users may be able to upload and collaborate on documents and contribute to controlled web content.
So far we've looked at getting started with Alfresco for sharing and collaborating on documents. Alfresco also has the ability to present web content. To do this, you need to set up Alfresco Web Quick Start, a set of packages that gives web developers the tools they need to create web content using Alfresco. Developers with access to the Web Quick Start Architecture can develop their own Alfresco extensions. For the casual administrator, however, access to the web content authoring application is the only item of concern here.
You create an Alfresco Web Quick Start site in much the same way as you create an Alfresco Share site, but first you need to add the capability to do so to your Dashboard. At the top of any page, select Sites, Create Site, and go through the process we did above. On your new site page, browse to Customize Dashboard, located on the upper right of the page, and click Add Dashlets to display a new area with draggable objects. Drag the one called Web Quick Start to either column 1 or column 2, then click OK.
Back on the page you started from, you will now see a Web Quick Start box with two pull-down options available. These Government and Finance import options are merely sample layouts designed with two different use cases – one for possible government needs, another more for finance needs. Most people will likely choose the government layout, as it's the more generic. If neither is perfect for your intended use, you can edit one of them, though this isn't something most users would feel comfortable doing. When you click Import, you are prompted for your Alfresco login credentials. Once the data import completes, you may find that you must perform a page refresh. After my data import, I actually had to log in again, as Alfresco apparently logged me out.
After you refresh the page or log back in, browse to http://localhost:8080/wcmqs to see the Web Quick Start website data demo. Note an important distinction: http://localhost:8080/wcmqs offers you access to the editorial side of the Web Quick Start site, which displays content not yet published, while http://127.0.0.1:8080/wcmqs represents the public side of the site. How is this possible? As explained here, Alfresco sets up the Web Quick Start application to run on port 8080 and to differentiate 127.0.0.1 from localhost. While both mean the same thing, Alfresco sees the address designations as being different and unique.
Before you make changes to your test site or create content, read the extensive documentation.
Working with Alfresco to manage web content is ideal if you have a knowledgeable administrator at the helm. Alfresco is both advanced and complex. The good news is that once you have Alfresco installed and your sites set up, further configuration isn't difficult, though it is time-consuming. With your Alfresco installation ready to go, your organization is ready to invite users, create new sites for collaboration, and set up a web presence, all using one single, integrated application.
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