If Its Not Easy, Users Dont

Opinion: Successful systems add new function to processes that users already understand.

Users rarely behave as planned unless thats the easiest thing for them to do. Alfresco Softwares enterprise content management platform, released today, applies this basic lesson in an open-source, service-oriented architecture approach that makes content management a path of least resistance -- instead of creating a parallel process that asks users to do extra work.

"You need to fit within the paradigms that users are familiar with. Files, they understand. E-mail, they understand. Searching with Google, they understand. We want it to look like a file system to add stuff in, like e-mail for process, and like Google for finding stuff," said John Newton, Alfrescos CTO and chairman, during our pre-release conversation in mid-October. The companys site offers a users-eye view of the system in action, and I think youll agree that its a pretty intuitive approach.

Alfresco gets considerable leverage from both its basis in open-source technology and its service-oriented model. Alfrescos Newton was co-founder and lead designer at Documentum, the content management powerhouse acquired almost two years ago by EMC. "There are loads of things that Documentum wouldnt have to write anymore," observed Alfresco CMO Ian Howells, a distributed database Ph.D. who also spent time with that company. "We had to develop a whole document model, but now theres Hibernate. Whats happened is that modern tools change the whole level of productivity of what you can do."

Being designed with the SOA model in mind makes Alfresco highly extensible on the inside without adding complexity on the outside. "Its about a content life cycle," Howells explained: "Youre changing the security of the document, where its stored, perhaps it goes into readable PDF for public use, but you shouldnt have to know that. It should just happen."

Making things "just happen" is also a crucial goal for multicore CPUs, which wont just make old code run faster in the manner of the new CPUs that weve seen ever since the Intel 386. Youll find my notes on that challenge, as described by Microsoft architect Herb Sutter at last weeks Fall Processor Forum in San Jose, with links to additional resources on the Inside eWEEK Labs blog and in my commentary in this weeks eWEEK Podcast.

Tell me what paths youre making -- and following -- at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.


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