Cross-platform collaboration with Alfresco

Teamwork

Article from Issue 152/2013
Author(s):

The Alfresco collaboration tool lets you track documents, share content, and collaborate with team members – and it integrates nicely with Microsoft SharePoint.

Alfresco is an open source tool you can use to share web content, orchestrate workflows, manage documents, and collaborate in real time [1]. All of these features make Alfresco a suitable alternative for Microsoft's popular SharePoint collaboration system. This article provides a brief tour of Alfresco and shows how you can get started with content sharing and collaboration.

Installation

Alfresco comes in two flavors: the community version, which is free to download [2], and a commercial cloud application that lets you pay as you go. This article focuses on the free version. For more information on the commercial, enterprise version, see the Alfresco website [3].

You can download the Alfresco community edition as a complete package, along with the web server and the database. To avoid incompatibilities with port assignments, make sure you don't already have a web server running on the system, or else take the necessary steps to ensure the ports don't clash.

A custom installation option is available for more complex scenarios, such as network installation on a remote system. You can download the source code from the Alfresco website and upload the files to your web server. Then, just access the Alfresco folder via your web browser. The installation script will then take over and, after you fill in the required details, such as the database and password, the installation is complete!

Getting Started

Alfresco organizes content into sites. A site is actually a form of website with support for Alfresco's many collaboration and content sharing features. You can manage multiple sites from one Alfresco account. For example, you might have a separate site for different internal projects within your company.

When you log in to Alfresco, you will find a link labeled sites, on the upper left side of the web page. All the sites you have created can be accessed via this link, and you can also use the Sites menu to create add a new site to your Alfresco configuration.

To create a new site, just click the Create Site link in the Sites menu (Figure 1) and enter the name, URL, and description for the site in the new window. That's how easy it is – your site is ready.

Figure 1: Select the Sites menu to create a new site.

As you navigate to your new Alfresco site, you will find the site dashboard (Figure 2). On the top, just below the menu bar, is a suggestion bar, which tells you about various available features. Below are several blocks on the site, which display specific information. These blocks are called dashlets. Dashlets provide a summary of the site members, content, features. As the creator of the site on Alfresco, you can customize these dashlets, and users will see the dashboard as arranged by you.

Figure 2: Manage the new site from the site dashboard.

Dashlets are very useful for displaying information about users and resources. For example, the Site Notice dashlet lets you convey important information to the intended audience with minimal effort. To browse the available dashlets, click the Customize Dashboard button on the top right corner of the site dashboard (Figure 2). You can change the page layout, as well as add or remove dashlets.

Your site will also need users. Registered Alfresco users have to be invited before they can use a specific site. Each user has a role in the site, which is assigned when the user is invited to join.

To add a user to your site, click the invite button in the upper-right corner of the site dashboard (Figure 2). Before an invitation is sent to the user, you have to select a role for the user. Based on the role, the user has privileges assigned for the site.

After you create a site and add users to it, the next step is to customize the site to contain the elements you would like to include with the design. Will your team need a blog, links, data lists, or discussion groups? To customize your site, click on the More button in the upper right corner of the site dashboard (again in Figure 2) and select "Customize Site" in the drop-down menu.

The Customize Site page (Figure 3) lets you add elements to the site design. Once these features are added, they appear on the menu bar of your site. You could also enable the corresponding dashlet in order to see the feature on the site dashboard.

Figure 3: Customize your site by adding features such as a blog, wiki, or calendar.

Document Management

When the site and its users are ready, it is time to upload documents. Alfresco allows online/offline editing of documents; document locking, version control, robust document content search, and much more.

By default, all the documents in the document library are available to users with the necessary privileges. Alfresco also offers a way to override the default privilege, and you can even manage permissions for each document separately.

On the site dashboard menu bar, click the document library link. This link takes you to the document repository where documents are stored (Figure 4). Here you can organize the documents in your library by creating folders.

Figure 4: Manage documents and track revisions through the document library.

To manage permissions for a document, just mouse over the document and click More, then click the link labeled Manage Permissions. Alfresco provides an online file viewer for most common file types, so you don't have to download the file to see the content. To view the documents in the online viewer, click on the document, and Alfresco will open it.

To lock a file so that no one else can edit it until you are done, click on More and then select Edit Offline.

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