Alfresco the first open-source Enterprise Content Management system?


Alfresco LogoI’ve recently been running a vendor assessment for an NGO (Non Government Organisation, Charity) called NetHope. They are looking to build a collaboration Intranet for all their member NGO’s (there’s currently 18 of them!) to share information and documents. Obviously, I included Alfresco in the vendor assessment, and also Plone, which is heavily supported by Oxfam who have invested heavily in the platform.

I have to admit, I hadn’t heard much about Plone before this project, and I was pretty interested to see what it could do. One of the interesting comments I saw on a few blogs and forums was a challenge to Alfresco’s claim to be the first open-source ECM system, as Plone has been around since 1999 and claims to also be an ECM system, whereas Alfresco has only been around since 2005.

After doing my assessment, I will admit Plone has many of the features you would expect from an ECM platform, it also provides a lot of great collaboration features, workflow and a multi-site web publishing system. However there is one crucial component missing: A document repository. As far as I could see from the out of the box system, there is no version control, documents are added as file page attachments, and there will be no full-text indexing of binary content uploaded to Plone (like PDF’s and Word Documents) until version 3.0. For an Enterprise Content Managment system, they’re all pretty key features that Alfresco does provide out of the box from pretty much the first version!

In addition, I have a couple of other reasons why Plone is not as “Enterprise” as Alfresco:

  • Plone is written in Python, an object-oriented language which is not widely supported by industry, whereas Alfresco is written in Java, a common language used among enterprises.
  • Plone runs on the Zope application server (also written in Python) which is also not common in industry as opposed to J2EE application servers that are found and supported in most organizations.

Plone has become a standard among many NGO’s worldwide for a number of years now, who have developed modules (called products in Plone) for the open source community, and as a result, it provides a lot of additional functionality, especially for collaboration, that Alfresco is still lacking. However, I think when you compare the two platforms, the core of Alfresco is definately what an ECM should have, and the other features will come with time as its very easy to extend. I would still support Alfresco’s claim to be the first open-source ECM!