London-based Alfresco Software has taken direct aim at Microsoft's popular SharePoint collaboration software by adding similar functionality to its open source content management software. The clincher: transparency and integration with Microsoft Office.
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Businesses now can download a beta version of Alfresco Labs 3 and import or export data to and from Office files and into Alfresco's repository just as they would with SharePoint. Alfresco Labs 3 has the same look and feel as SharePoint, but with one big difference: It's free.
From a data center perspective, Alfresco's SharePoint-like transparent link into Microsoft Office applications creates a genuine open source alternative to an all-Microsoft stack, according to Alfresco Chief Technology Officer John Newton.
"Eighty million people are using 100% Microsoft products: Windows, .NET, SQL and Internet Explorer," Newton said. "For the first time, we're able to offer [a non-Microsoft] choice for those who like Linux."
EC to the rescue
Alfresco was able to achieve full transparency with Microsoft Office products because of the 2004 European Commission antimonopoly ruling, which forced Microsoft to open its network protocols. Alfresco is the first software company to take the protocol specifications and create a collaborative product that works seamlessly with Office, Newton said.
Alfresco's SharePoint-like collaboration tool is just one of several components in its Alfresco Labs 3 content management software, which also includes a platform for building Web applications, a social computing application and a document library that scales to 100 million documents, compared with a 5-million limit per library with SharePoint, according to Newton. The Labs 3 beta application is available now, with the full release expected in late September or early October.
Alfresco was quick to jump on the opportunity to import Microsoft Office data, because far more Office workers use collaboration tools than content management systems; consequently, the market demand for collaboration tools is growing much faster, Newton said. SharePoint has become "the default [collaborative] solution," he said.
To date, Alfresco's content management software has been downloaded 1.3 million times, with tens of thousands of copies in production, Newton said. In addition, Alfresco has 500 to 600 enterprise customers paying for support, which costs $10,000 per CPU, he said.
"The business model is working really well," Newton said.
Kathleen Reidy, a senior analyst at New York-based 451 Group said Alfresco's full integration with SharePoint is its key selling point, which should appeal to mixed shops looking for a Microsoft alternative. And Alfresco is definitely more scaleable, according to Alfresco's tests, she said.
The problem is that the market and need for SharePoint isn't well defined yet, so it's too early for Alfresco to be disruptive in the way that JBoss has been for the more expensive IBM WebSphere or BEA WebLogic, she said.
Alfresco doesn't replicate all the functionality of SharePoint either. Consequently, some companies may opt to use both applications, saving money by adding Alfresco and scaling back on SharePoint, she said.