Whenever a client or a friend asks me about having a central place to store documents and information, the first solution that I would recommend to them is Sharepoint.
A few days later, they would come back to me and ask, is there a cheaper or free alternative to Sharepoint?
I would tell them that Sharepoint is quite unique and a powerful solution, especially for office collaboration purposes. Also, whichever solution he chooses, it all depends on his end goal and business requirements.
From my experience with Sharepoint, it is really good for:
- Document management with version control features
- Content management
- Lists management
- Calendar of events
- Search capabilities
He was still interested in a cheaper or free alternative, thus I suggested him some alternatives but they are stand-alone products such as:
- Document management – KnowledgeTree
- Content management – Joomla
- Survey management – LimeSurvey
- Lists management – Don’t know of a free alternative 🙂
So he goes back and Google for the products above, and a few days later came back to me and asks, is there a solution similar to Sharepoint which allows users a single sign-on to all the required features. At the moment, if he is to install all three solutions above, his users would have to maintain three IDs for each of the solutions. Also, the user interface and user experience are not standardized since they are three different products altogether.
I did some research and found out that Alfresco seems to be an open-source Sharepoint alternative.
Immediately I tried to download the software and found out that Ingres has repackaged Alfresco to make it a simple one-click install on your server or pc. The Ingres-Alfresco bundle was downloaded (256 MB) and installed on my Virtual PC for evaluation purposes.
When Alfresco was started, there was a home page that displays spaces and content items in it. If you’re familiar with Sharepoint, spaces in Alfresco is just like sites in Sharepoint. It’s basically space for you to store all your content and information.
To try out Alfresco, I started off by creating a space called All Company Projects so that I could track all information related to my projects.
Once created, I could see it added to a list of all my other spaces.
Clicking into the All Company Projects Space brings me to a similar look and feel as the home page, but right now I’m in the Projects Space. There are a few things I could do. Create another subspace or add some content into the existing space. I could add all sorts of content into this space, such as HTML based information or even word files.
So the core of Alfresco goes around creating spaces as a container and adding content into the spaces making it a neat content and document management tool.
Trying it out further, I found that there is also a Check-Out button for one to lock files that he/she is working on. This feature is useful so that no two person edits on the same document at the same time thus eliminating the need to merge documents later on.
Overall, Alfresco is quite powerful even though it is free and open-source. During these times, everyone could use low-cost software to improve productivity and teamwork in the office.
Personally, I’m still implementing Windows Sharepoint Services in my office environment since we are a Registered Member of Microsoft and have subscribed to Microsoft Action Pack (MAPS). We were considering using Alfresco before we got the MAPS kit, but Alfresco does not allow me to create custom lists, thus it does not fully fulfill our requirements.
Like I mentioned earlier, the usability of a solution depends on your business requirements. If your requirements are just to fulfill content and document management purposes, Alfresco could be a good and affordable fit. But again, do not hesitate to download Alfresco and give it a try as I might have left out mentioning some other really good features. One thing for sure, between Alfresco and Sharepoint, you will definitely get Alfresco up and running quicker than Sharepoint as Sharepoint requires you to install a few components such as the .NET framework, SQL Server database, and the Sharepoint application itself before it’s up and running. With the Ingres-Alfresco bundle, it’s just like installing a program into your machine. Just double click, click next all the way and you’re good to go.