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Open-source ECM tool nears release

A London-based upstart is primed to release its first open-source enterprise content management software.

Software provider Alfresco is putting finishing touches to the first release of its open-source technology to help businesses manage their data.

The London-based company said the software, also called Alfresco, is one of the first nonproprietary examples of enterprise content management (ECM) products, which help a large company automatically keep track of all its data, smoothing search and indexing activities.

Alfresco was started in January by John Newton, co-founder of ECM provider Documentum, and John Powell, former chief operating officer of business intelligence firm Business Objects.

Newton said he decided to move on from his career in the proprietary software industry, because he thinks open source is one of the best approaches when setting up an international software company in the current economic climate.

"I had chosen to live in Britain and, looking at what succeeds in Europe right now, I realized that open source was one of few things that can create a global market," Newton said during an interview at the JBoss World conference in Barcelona on Tuesday.

The Alfresco product emulates a file system on top of the content management system (CMS) repository. It automatically processes the information into files and adds metadata, so information can be found using Google-like searches. Since the system simply requires people to save files, companies can get data from those who refuse to use traditional CMS interfaces, Newton said.

"What companies struggle with is that the end users who know the most avoid content management systems, as they don't want to fill in forms. These are some of the most valuable people in a company--for example, investment bankers or scientists in a pharmaceutical company. These users avoid the system and go straight to a shared file system," Newton said.

Alfresco is already being installed by "several customers," Newton said, but he was unwilling to name them. He did say that one was a "well-known high-street name in the U.K." that has 2,500 employees and is rolling out the product across its entire business. The preview release of the product was downloaded 25,000 times in the two months after its June release, he said.

The project has also attracted a number of contributors who have helped with testing, developing and translating the product. The voluntary translation work has been particularly useful, Newton said.

"They have contributed translations of the software in ways that we couldn't possibly manage," Newton said. "As soon as we put the code out there, we had about a dozen languages, and people are adding new languages as we speak, including less common languages such as Vietnamese and Armenian."

He said that translating software can be hard work for proprietary companies. For example, he explained that in the early days at Documentum, it took three to six months to translate software into another language.

Alfresco is not the only company to have found that working with the open-source community can be beneficial. Last year, software maker Netline claimed that its decision to open source its e-mail server platform reduced the development time for a new release by a factor of 10.

The Alfresco preview release can be downloaded from the company's Web site.

Ingrid Marson of