Cross-platform collaboration with Alfresco

Workflow Management

Alfresco lets you associate a document with a workflow. A workflow is a set of steps that the document will pass through. Most of the workflow types available in Alfresco are related to the review of the documents; options include peer review, parallel review, pool review, and group review. However, Alfresco also lets you create ad hoc workflows, with which you can assign arbitrary tasks to your colleagues.

To create a workflow, select a document and then click on the More button, which appears on the extreme right. In the drop-down menu, select Start workflow, which takes you to the workflow editing page (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The workflows feature lets you define the edit and review process for a document.

To view all your pending tasks, and the workflows you created, just click on the More button in the site dashboard. As you click, you get the drop-down with a option to view all the pending tasks and workflows.

Other Features

As mentioned previously, Alfresco lets you add useful features, such as wikis, blogs, discussions, calendars, data lists, and links to your site. Most of these tools are self-explanatory; however, I will mention one innovative Alfresco feature: the data list.

A data list allows you to create lists for almost any kind of data you wish to display on your site. The list could be a contact list, a to-do list, an issues list, an address list, or any other list. Such lists can be a great asset for your Alfresco site, especially when you have forgetful users on your site.

The Discussions feature lets the user create a discussion group on a specific topic, with a post and reply format for the ensuing discussion.

SharePoint and Alfresco Integration

Alfresco lets you integrate the document repository with Microsoft office suite tools such as Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. So, while you work with your favorite document editor, you can leverage your Alfresco repository to store, share, and manage your documents.

The tight integration with Microsoft tools is possible because Alfresco provides support for the SharePoint protocol. This SharePoint support is included out of the box when you download the Alfresco 3a community release. You can also manually install SharePoint support on earlier versions.

SharePoint protocol support is added to Alfresco through the Alfresco WAR (Web Application Archive) file. The vti-module.amp file needs to be installed to enable Alfresco to connect as SharePoint.

The installation steps are as follows (according to the official Alfresco documentation):

  1. Shut down the Alfresco server.
  2. Start the MMT (Module Management Tool) to help you manage the AMP (Alfresco Module Package). Run the command java - jar alfresco-mmt-2.1.jar at the command line to start the MMT.
  3. As the MMT is started, you can run the command install <AMPFileLocation> <WARFileLocation> to install the .amp file to the .war file. Just replace the file location fields with the file locations of the vti-module.amp file and the alfresco.war file.
  4. Copy the ROOT.war file into the Tomcatwebapps folder. To do this, delete the ROOT folder from the webapps folder (if there is one), then copy ROOT.war into the webapps folder.
  5. Start your Alfresco server.

Remember that the installation is only required if you are using a version of Alfresco that doesn't have SharePoint protocol support installed by default.

Imagine one of your team members is editing a document in a favorite word processing tool, which happens to be MS Word. With the SharePoint protocol support enabled, the user can directly save the Word file to the Alfresco repository, and MS Word will think it is talking to a SharePoint server.

Figure 6 shows how to save a file in MS Word for Mac 2011. Choose the File menu in MS Word and select Share | Save to SharePoint.

Figure 6: Alfresco supports the SharePoint protocol and can therefore appear as a SharePoint server on the network.

The next window lets you choose a previous location or add a new one. Click on the + button in the lower left corner of the window to add a new SharePoint server folder path (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Click the + button to add a SharePoint server in MS Word, then enter the server URL.

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