Review of ‘Alfresco Share’

When Packt Publishing approached me for a review of ‘Alfresco Share‘ by Amita Bhandari, Pallika Majmudar and Vinita Choudhary, I was mostly curious. I was biased about the book; I expected ‘Yet Another Beginners Guide’. It was that and I was positively surprised too!

The authors have a section “Who this book is for”. This helped me set my expectations. It states: “If you are a business user or content manager looking to implement a collaboration strategy for your enterprise, then this book is for you. This book is not a developer guide. It focuses on business needs rather than technical syntax. However, it helps in understanding the capabilities of Alfresco Share through case study. […]“. So I expected a book about Alfresco Share with as audience business users/content managers, no tech-stuff.

What I got
I got a book about the business use of Alfresco Share.  Nice intro why we need Share, and what it’s business purpose can be. There is a thorough walk through of the installation of Alfresco Share,  the functionalities you get when you have Share installed. And indeed, lots of pages of screen-shots that walk you through the functionality of the platform. This seems to serve the same purpose like Alfresco’s documentation, done ‘right’ with the images. It covers permissions, document library, Wiki and the other components, simple and advanced workflow. So far, the expected ‘Yet Another Beginners Guide’, with a complementary real-life use case.

‘My’ nuggets that stood out from the rest were chapter 3 (Alfresco Share Architecture) and 9 (Configuring Share). First of all because it did not match the expectations set in the “who this book is for” section. In a non-developer book I would not expect the mechanisms of the Surf platform and webscripts explained, why would one need to know? (Other than for development purposes…).  The ‘Configuring Share’ section covers (among others) how to remove the repository browsing, how to enable status icons, how to work with a custom data model and modifying all kind of forms in the application. Some of these could be tweaks that could enahance the use of a particular Share instance. I a, still guessing why this is in. The good part is that it shows it is easy to tweak the look and feel and behaviour of the platform.
Secondly because I am a developer too, and this touches stuff that I do with Alfresco Share.

I still have mixed feelings about chapter 1. I understand you want your readers to get Alfresco installed on their system. But why elaborate on the folder structure and the purpose of each folder? The Alfresco all-in-one installer is quite solid and covers all the tooling the platform needs these days. It will deliver you a working system. And you want to elaborate on functionality!?

The Pro’s
The book is about version 4.0! I was afraid it was about the 3.x range, since getting a book published usually can take quite a while. Next to that it is nice to see all (new) features grouped together. The annotated screen-shots seem natural to be there; only when checking Alfresco documentation it appears they are not there. The book  seems more enhanced with these annotated images.

The Con’s
It is a nice book to see all features. Personally, I don’t like lists of features, because every order of features one can argue about. A section ‘social’ could highlight following users and commenting on content, as well as marking content ‘favourite’ and the ability to ‘like’ it. Next to this the publishing to social networks could be covered.

Personally I would have liked to see a relation to what ‘business problem’ it is actually solving, or what range of problems could be targeted in real business life. Having the feature of ‘liking’ content and following people brings me… Better search results? Closer to knowledge? Being able to publish content to SlideShare or YouTube and send notifications to Twitter/Facebook is good because… (Because we can!)

The word iPad  (or mobile (other than in the context of ‘mobile phone number’)) is non-existing in this book. In my opinion that would have been a necessity. Some words about the cook-dine-snack metaphor (or was that just DevCon (2011) talk?), or something similar, would show  the Alfresco platform fits very well in today’s ways of working…

Alfresco Share can be so much more than ‘just’ a collaboration platform. Share is a front-end to a very powerful repository. Alfresco + Share is a platform;

  • there are quite some extensions developed by Alfresco, Partners and the Community
  • there are quite some commercial add-ons like Componize, FormTek, WeWebU OpenWorkdesk, migration-center to name only a few (link to Alfresco’s Partner Solutions) (but that would touch other use of the platform)
  • Alfresco + Share is often used to build applications other than ‘traditional collaboration’. Our company has build some solutions for example for publishing companies that manage local or worldwide authors, have the content centrally and secured in the repository at all times and have control and insight in the process of getting the content reviewed, ready and published. The features of Share (as described in the book) are the foundation of such applications. These kind of applications add value (too)! See some Alfresco Case Studies

If the book wants to show how well Share can be used in a business, I would expect some section about how it will smoothly fit into an IT landscape as well. That Tomcat can be hardened using Apache in front. If it would be safer to install Share on a separate box i a zone external users can reach from the outside (DMZ?), and leave the repository somewhere safe  behind additional firewalls. Business reasons why you want to collaborate with the external world, but strategies how to deal with ‘confidential’ or sensitive business information. These are questions my customers seek answers to, and Alfresco+Share can provide, sometimes in more than one way.

The verdict
‘Alfresco Share’ is a book about the facts, not the vision. This book is a nice book for an Alfresco Share starter and if you use Alfresco Share out-of-the-box, but it lacks to mention some of all the other uses of the platform that are out there. For business/IT users considering the platform it lacks vision and infra structure pointers, and provides technical elements I value but I believe are out of scope for the intended audience.

The authors could not decide weather to go business or technical. The result is the book is a bit of neither.  If you want a copy of the book (there sure is some good stuff in there for Share beginners) I suggest you go for the cheaper eBook version, $45/€35 for the paper version is a lot of money for value. If you’re no starter and already know your way in Alfresco/Share, don’t.

2 Responses to “Review of ‘Alfresco Share’”

  1. 1 jma April 23, 2012 at 08:27

    hi, im a dctm consultant but want to get up to speed with Alfresco/Ephesoft. Any books you would recommend for me? Thx in advance!!

    • 2 Tjarda Peelen May 2, 2012 at 21:38

      That depends on what you want to learn. The ‘Alfresco Share’ book is a nice starter with a mix of functionality and configuration, Alfresco Share focussed. Jeff Potts ‘Alfresco Developers Guide’ is a great book if you want to learn more about configuration and customization (also from Packt Publishing). There are probably other great books too, I haven’t read them all 🙂

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