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Alfresco opens up SharePoint to Java, Linux, Oracle, and more

Alfresco is making history by opening up Microsoft's SharePoint functionality beyond Microsoft's walled garden infrastructure, enabling customers to choose their applications separate from choosing their infrastructure.

As an employee of Alfresco, I'm somewhat biased in reporting that Alfresco yesterday announced full SharePoint integration with the Alfresco 3.0 Labs release. Even so, I think it's highly significant precisely because of what it says about the importance of Microsoft's continued battles with the European Union over proprietary protocols.

Most that reported on the release missed this. OStatic, however, got it dead on:

As part of complying with the EU's demands, the company has released the specifications for the Microsoft Office interfaces, and now we're seeing some of the benefits spill over into open source. Alfresco, which makes open source enterprise content management (ECM) software, has added SharePoint interoperability....This looks like a good move from Alfresco and lets hope the EU's two-fisted stance toward Microsoft results in more of this kind of sharing.

Bingo, and bravo to Microsoft, whatever its intentions and pressures that resulted in opening up the SharePoint protocol. The net result is a huge win for customers. Why?

Well, for the first time enterprises can get the benefits of SharePoint-esque functionality and interoperability without having to adopt Microsoft technologies wholesale. This is the other big news in Alfresco's release, also mostly missed by the media. CMS Watch, however, nailed this aspect of the release, and points to the critical importance of getting out of the SharePoint thicket that Forrester criticizes before SharePoint and Office merge at the next release:

But this release has appeal beyond the open source community, for the simple fact that by using the Alfresco alternative you are not locked into the Microsoft stack. This isn't so much an issue now, but will be when Office and SharePoint effectively merge at the next major release. Unhooking the two from each other (or at least having the option to do so) is good risk mitigation, and a powerful thing to have in your armory when negotiating with Microsoft.

Where Alfresco may find a particular sweet spot is with those organizations looking to take SharePoint beyond its limits. In some of those cases Alfresco may well be more developer-friendly both in terms of the technology (AJAX and RESTful) and more digestible in terms of pricing.

I've long argued that enterprises unwittingly aid and abet Microsoft's use of SharePoint as the future of its lock-in strategy, and nowhere is this more clearly defined than if you consider what happens when SharePoint and Office merge. And you thought lock-in was bad now at the file format level....Microsoft requires that you use SharePoint with a 100 percent Microsoft stack. Alfresco allows you to use SharePoint functionality on Java, MySQL, Oracle, BEA, Linux, etc. etc. etc.

But it's more than this, as CMS Watch points out. SharePoint is an excellent product, but it's also a "prefabricated" product, meaning that it comes with a range of templates that make getting from start to halfway much easier than if you're used to using a cumbersome Documentum or FileNet. But the problem is when you want to customize or extend it beyond what Microsoft gives customers out of the box. Good luck! With an open-source alternative to SharePoint with full SharePoint integration, enterprises can extend SharePoint-like services to their hearts' content.

In sum, I think this release is important far beyond my personal pecuniary interests. It's this sort of integration and interoperability with Microsoft that open source and the software industry needs. Interoperability driven by openness, not closed, back-room deals. Interoperability that allows customers to choose their infrastructure separate from choosing their application.

You can see screenshots and further description here.

In case you didn't see the very first sentence of this post, I am an employee of Alfresco.