Fast, Easy Installation

By P. J. Connolly  |  Posted 2010-04-12 Print this article Print


Fast, Easy Installation

Assuming you have a machine ready to go and set up with appropriate application and database servers, installing Alfresco can be completed in an hour or two. For my evaluation I ran Alfresco Enterprise Edition 3.2r on top of GlassFish version 3 and MySQL 5.1. GlassFish provided the Apache Tomcat servlet container for application services. The Alfresco installer assumes that Tomcat is using TCP port 8080.

If you choose to use another port (as I did), you must change references to the Tomcat service in a few configuration files to access significant parts of the Alfresco system. This wasn't documented very well, but it was easily solved after a conversation with one of Alfresco's support engineers.

Once the installation was complete, I set myself some typical administration tasks, such as user creation and installing sample content, and familiarized myself with the browser-based Alfresco Explorer management interface. This is a powerful tool for manipulating the underpinnings of the system: It allows access to content libraries, site definition and content tags, and other functions that organizations often want to manage centrally.

How you want to administer and authenticate Alfresco users is a decision best made early in the deployment. It's possible to pass much of the work of user definition and authentication up to a corporate directory service, with some adjustments to the system configuration and limitations imposed by the directory service used. That is probably the best way to go in large deployments, but for instances of up to a few score users, Alfresco's internal user management tools are likely to suffice.

In either case, Alfresco permits a fine degree of control over a user's access to the system's features and the individual sites and workspaces of the CMS. Users are assigned roles according to their responsibilities for content creation and management, and their authority to make changes to the environment. Site managers have complete control over their sites, while the roles of collaborator, contributor and consumer provide diminishing levels of ability to modify content.

Arranging Dashboards

Most of the day-to-day user interaction takes place through Alfresco Share, another browser-based interface designed around the now-ubiquitous dashboard paradigm. Users have the option to arrange dashboard tools (or "dashlets") according to their needs. Alfresco provides canned dashlets for calendaring and task managemen,t as well as for content management and manipulation.

The company makes its Surf view composition framework available for the design of custom dashlets on top of Spring. The code for Surf was released to the SpringSource community site last fall, although documentation for the Surf APIs is still "coming soon."

Content in an Alfresco CMS is managed by sites within the organization. The basic collaboration site dashboard displays recent activity on the site, recently modified documents, a list of site members and their roles, and other related features including blog and wiki components.

Typically, you start a collaboration site in Alfresco by using the wiki tool to create an introduction and explanation of the site, followed by adding content to the document library, and then inviting site members from inside and/or outside the organization.

As an alternative to Alfresco's browser-based interface, users with Microsoft Office 2007 can access collaboration sites as if they were SharePoint team sites. However, there are some limits to this, as Alfresco doesn't support the full range of SharePoint's features. Alerts, custom metadata, subsites and tasks are among the missing functions.

P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at

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