Alfresco releases open-source ECM software

Alfresco Software Inc. has released the first version of it open-source enterprise content management software.

Alfresco Software on Monday released the first version of its open-source enterprise content management (ECM) software aimed at small to midsize businesses (SMBs).

The 13-person U.K. startup's coming-out party will be at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) East taking place in Newton, Massachusetts, on Tuesday and Wednesday. At the conference, Alfresco will be one of 16 startups focusing on the open-source market chosen to exhibit at the event's Emerging Elite Showcase, according to the show's organizers.

Alfresco launched a preview version of its repository back in June and to date has already seen "between 30,000 and 40,000 downloads" of that software from its Web site, according to John Powell, the company's co-founder, president and chief executive officer. "We released it to give people an idea of what we're doing," he said in a phone interview. Version 1.0 of Alfresco's software adds in enterprise support for security and caching, Powell added.

Before forming Alfresco, Powell and John Newton had formed Activiti, a U.K. startup focused on the financial services sector with applications that merged ECM and analytics software.

Despite favorable reviews from analysts and potential customers, Activiti didn't take off as hoped. "It wasn't the right time to sell into banks," Powell said. He and Newton decided to close Activiti down at the end of 2004. At the start of this year, after stripping out the analytics piece from the software they and their team had developed for Activiti, they worked on making the product more generic, took it open source and established Alfresco. Powell and Newton personally funded the business until June when they raised US$2 million in Series A funding from venture capital Accel Partners.

What the Alfresco team realized was that traditional ECM software was very complicated and very costly. "It was hard to get content into the system," Powell said. "We wanted to alleviate that and made Alfresco look like the Microsoft file system." That way, users weren't aware they were using an ECM product, with saving content to the Alfresco repository being as easy as saving files on a Windows shared file drive, he added. The Alfresco software includes automatic rules so that a piece of content can be dealt with in specified ways, whether rendered into HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and output to a Web site or turned into a PDF (portable document format) file or put into a workflow application. A company's developers can customize the Alfresco system through wizards or Java and other programming languages and can set up their own specific document life cycles rules as well, according to Powell.

Alfresco is establishing an open-source release of its software as well as three kinds of fee-based support.

At the Community Network level, the Alfresco product is freely available for download as open-source software from The Developer Network support costs US$4.99 per month per user and provides developers with access to the latest version of the software and enables them to develop against a certified, supported version of the product. Priced at US$9.99 per user per month, the Professional Network option adds in extra security functionality and is aimed at small enterprises or enterprise departments. Finally, Enterprise Network is priced at US$625 per monthly for an unlimited number of users and features support and single sign-on, clustering, fail-over and advanced caching.

What Alfresco is trying to do with ECM can be compared with what another open-source startup SugarCRM Inc. is already doing in the CRM (customer relationship management) application space, according to Powell. "We're distilling down the key elements of ECM," he said. "We've made it deployable by virtually anybody." There's a huge potential market among many companies that aren't as yet using ECM, Powell believes, mostly due to the high cost of the existing proprietary software.

Alfresco's already at work on the next version of its ECM software which will likely appear in the first quarter of 2006, according to Powell. The release will feature full support for wikis, blogs, discussion threads and calendaring, he said.

The Alfresco name came about after the startup held a contest to name the new company, according to Powell. With "alfresco" meaning outdoors, the name works well for an open-source company, he said, and holds no negative connotations.

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