Have lunch and learn about content management

Shane Hathaway shane at hathawaymix.org
Fri Sep 16 15:47:08 MDT 2011

On 09/16/2011 02:38 PM, Richard Esplin wrote:
> I have no hands-on experience with Plone. Before responding to your question, I spent a few minutes brushing up on the features. I was surprised that Plone has a lot more document management features than I was previously aware of. Alfresco and Plone have a lot of overlap in web content management scenarios.

Thanks for a thoughtful response!

> Though Plone has features like WebDAV support, workflow, and metadata, it appears to be optimized for web content management. In my quick search it appears that:
> * It has limited facilities for inspection or transformation of non-text based content (full-text search, metadata extraction, preview).

Well, I know of several large intranets that use Plone for managing 
office documents and PDFs.  Those deployments have full text search 
using either the internal catalog or Solr.

> * It stores everything in a single large binary database file, with BLOB capabilities for extracting some unstructured binaries.

Large deployments of Plone use RelStorage or ZEO instead of a single 
database file.  RelStorage puts all objects in Postgres, MySQL, or 
Oracle.  (Disclaimer: I wrote RelStorage.)

> * Its workflow capabilities appear to be tailored to web publishing scenarios (no event model).

Its workflow is actually an arbitrary finite state machine that can be 
built or customized through the web or in code.  There are books that 
explore the workflow capabilities in depth.  (Disclaimer: I wrote 
DCWorkflow, the core of Plone's workflow.)

> That doesn't mean that Plone isn't a strong platform with a solid use case. I merely highlight those as examples of where Alfresco's focus is different from Plone. Though Alfresco can often be used in the same situations as Plone, Alfresco's focus is being a scalable content repository in back-office use cases (intranets, business workflow, embedded in applications).
> Alfresco is most widely used in scenarios involving office documents, images, video, and audio. Useful features include:
> * Automatic extraction of common metadata (EXIF, PDF), plus easy hooks to insert custom metadata extractors.
> * Automatic transformation of common formats (MS Office to PDF), plus easy hooks to insert custom transformers.
> * Out-of-the-box full-text search and preview of common office, image, video, and audio formats.
> * All content is stored on the filesystem, so there are no limits to the size of content. Performance is comparable for lots of small files or lots of really big files.
> * A configurable event system that fires when content is uploaded, modified, or removed.
> * BPMN2 compliant workflow engine.
> * Easy onramps for unstructured content like CIFS, WebDAV, FTP, SharePoint Protocol, IMAP, SMTP, NFS, etc.
> * Compliant with the CMIS standard for REST and SOAP integrations.
> * A system for easily writing your own rest services using JavaScript and XML.
> * Able to publish content to external endpoints via email, REST, and other transfer services. Out-of-the-box endpoints include Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and WordPress.
> * Scales to the 10's of millions of documents.
> I have recently helped clients deploy Alfresco in scenarios like:
> * Serving large amounts of video or Flash games through a custom web portal,
> * High performance scanning and ingestion,
> * Processing loan applications,
> * Storing business documents for HR, Marketing, Legal, and IT,
> * Authoring and distributing product catalogs, datasheet, and marketing information to a team of resellers,
> * Records archives for SOX compliance,
> * Storing the multi-media assets used by an online game

Good to know.  I have been involved in similar projects with Plone.  As 
a developer, I prefer Plone because it's written in Python, which 
reduces the complexity of the code somewhat so I can extend it more 
easily.  (Even so, every big CMS seems to have insanely complex code!) 
Plone also benefits from a large developer community with a strong core.

However, if I were managing a business instead of developing software, I 
would certainly give Alfresco a serious look. :-)  Thanks again.


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