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'First' open source ECM nears release

A preview version of Alfresco's open source enterprise content-management product has been downloaded over 25,000 times and is already being rolled out to customers including a UK high-street chain

Software company Alfresco is putting the finishing touches to the first release of its open source content-management system, which it claims is the first non-proprietary product to hit the enterprise content management (ECM) industry.

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

Newton said he decided to move on from a career in the proprietary software industry as 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 realised that open source was one of few things that can create a global market," said Newton, during an interview at the JBoss World conference in Barcelona on Tuesday.

The Alfresco product emulates a file system on top of the CMS repository and automatically processes the information into files and adds metadata so that the information can be found using "Google-like" searches. As the system simply requires users to save files, companies can get data from users who refuse to use traditional CMS interfaces, according to Newton.

"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," said Newton.

Alfresco is already being rolled out by "several customers", according to Newton. He was unwilling to name them, but said that one was a "well-known high-street name in the UK", which 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 release in June.

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," said Newton. "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 between three and six months to translate software into another language.

Alfresco is not the only company to have found that with the open source community can be beneficial. Last year, software company Netline claimed that its decision to open-source its email 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.