Fleur and I attended an RSC West Midlands “Document Management with SharePoint” event on the morning of 17th March. We were interested in the enterprise content-management features primarily. Presentations from OfficeTalk and Parabola Software gave a flavour of what could be achieved using ‘lightweight’ implementation of SharePoint using Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) only or full scale implementation using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS). See the product guide for SharePoint features.
Key points from the SharePoint presentations were:
- Good integration with other Microsoft technologies – Office, Outlook, Active Directory. You might expect this.
- Lack of a consistent user (interface) experience across the suite of technologies comprising SharePoint. Some component applications implement the latest interface styles and modes of operation and others do not. It ‘feels like a collection of different applications’ rather than a coherent whole.
- Numerous gotchas. It’s important to do your homework thoroughly. For example, the forthcoming SharePoint 2010 components are all 64-bit so upgrading might involved the cost of new hardware as well as the software. For new adopters of SharePoint the recommendation was to go straight to the 2010 version.
- Accessibility is not good for SharePoint 2007 but 2010 is much better.
Balance was provided by a presentation from Sirius IT, Enterprise Open Source systems integrators. They outlined their concept of the e-Learning Stack consisting of the following layers:
- Course Management
- Document Management
The open source offering for document management was Alfresco, a technology we’re already familiar with.
Alfresco provides facilities for workflows, collaboration and versioning. It tries to minimize the learning curve by employing commonly understood metaphors like the ‘shared drive’. This is where Alfresco content residing on the server appears and behaves to the user as though its on a shared network drive.
An Office plugin exists for integration with Microsoft tools.
A powerful feature unique to Alfresco is format control. Inbound and outbound rules can be defined which automatically convert or transform content as it is added to or copied from the Alfresco shared drive. This happens automatically and transparently. For example, you might have a rule set up to compress any video content over 500MB in size. If the user copies a larger video file to the shared drive, the video is automatically compressed. Another example might be an outbound rule which converts a document to PDF format when it is requested. This would allow documents to remain editable on the shared drive in Word format, with automatic conversion to the more ubiquitous format for sharing.
This format control feature could be a hugely important tool to avoid runaway resource consumption as learning content is deposited into repositories and VLEs.
The community version of Alfresco is free. The Enterprise Edition, with technical support and extras to smooth deployment and management across the enterprise is available via a subscription.