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After creating user accounts and shared spaces (which can be further broken down by language), I started my Web Content Management (WCM) tests by using Adobe Dreamweaver CS3 to design Web pages and style sheets. Further, the CIFS (Common Internet File System) feature let me drag and drop these assets, existing Web pages, and rich media into the repository. I liked the new Web 2.0 user interface that let me conveniently zoom into a folder or content in any space - then preview Microsoft Office files, images, and video.

You may not need to do a lot of development because there's a nice library of sample forms for entering content (articles, news flashes, and multimedia) and site components (navigation, recent items, RSS feeds, site maps, and mashups) that add functionality to pages. I also published Alfresco content to WordPress and TypePad blogs.

Administration, a traditional Alfresco strength, is now even better. Using wizards, I quickly built a library of custom SmartWebForms. These enabled content contributions to enter and submit material in the correct format. Editorial workflows (created the same way) kept reviewers informed, using e-mail notification, of pages they needed to approve. As before, Alfresco includes extensive rules that automate both routine and complex tasks. For example, in a few steps I created a rule to watch a space for newly approved documents and convert them into PDF files.

Other changes in Version 2.1 let me check for broken links, set a time when content is to be published, and expire content.

The previous version enhanced content deployment in some important ways. For example, I published a Web site to multiple servers. For even more efficiency, Alfresco's transactional deployment function pushed recent content updates (rather than publishing a whole folder or site section). Additionally, the software now tracks these individual changes and there's immediate rollback to prior versions of a site.

Effortless document capture
Underlying WCM is Alfresco Document Management, which I accessed from the common work area. Users can also interact with documents from other interfaces they may already know, including shared drives, portals, WebDAV, and FTP.

A smart folder structure similar to what you'd find when working with Web content holds documents - which enabled me to create rules to reduce manual processing. For instance, after users responded to an "approve/reject" e-mail, Alfresco moved the draft document to the appropriate folder and performed any additional steps.

I liked the way Alfresco automatically extracted metadata from documents and then categorized them. Afterward, the Google-like OpenSearch (available from Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox) helps users find material quickly in the repository.

Records management (which meets U.S. Department of Defense 5015.2 requirements, but is not yet certified), works much like document management, and thus is likely to have a high adoption rate among end-users. For instance, documents can be dragged into the Alfresco repository from Office, Exchange, and Open Office desktop applications. I set up Alfresco to automatically classify records based on predefined types and then assign retention and archive policies. Further, it's easy to perform full-text searches or queries by file plans, categories, or types.

Image management relies on the same JSR-170 content repository and also let me reuse business policy rules I'd created for Web content and documents. There's also metadata extraction plus transformation among many image formats including TIFF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, Office, PDF, and Flash.

Combining document, Web, records, and image management, Alfresco 2.1 is a full-fledged EMC (enterprise content manager). Although such breadth often signals extra complexity in commercial offerings, Alfresco doesn't succumb to this problem. Using Web 2.0 techniques (such as lightweight scripting), native Office integration, and one common Web interface, users submit material to the common repository. And with integration throughout the modules, administrators can reuse components, such as business rules for publishing content.

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Mike Heck

InfoWorld
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