Alfresco Wants to Stand in for SharePoint Server

Open-source content management vendor Alfresco is hoping to lure away some business from Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) -- with an assist from Microsoft itself.

Its Alfresco Labs v3 product, now in beta, takes advantage of the SharePoint and Office protocol documentation files that Microsoft released, among others, earlier this year.

Office applications tightly integrate with SharePoint; the protocols allow Alfresco to act as a stand-in on the back end. Office "will believe it is talking to [MOSS] but it is actually Alfresco," said cofounder and CEO John Powell.

But the vendor is being realistic about how much business it could take away from Microsoft. "We're not coming out with this to say, 'replace SharePoint,' because I think that's a dry, futile argument," Powell said.

The Labs product, formerly called the Community edition, is available free. The enterprise edition of v3, which includes subscription support at US$20,000 per CPU, for up to four cores, is not set to ship until September or October.

But greater flexibility, as opposed to cost savings, may be the main attraction of Alfresco, said Kathleen Reidy, an analyst with the 451 Group.

"Alfresco does charge for support, and it has very large deals. There's a potential for savings but it would depend on the specifics," she said. "One of the things you always hear about SharePoint is that Microsoft gives it away. That's not true, and neither is the idea that open source is free."

But Alfresco supports a fairly wide variety of underlying stacks, while SharePoint is dependent on other Microsoft technologies such as Windows Server.

Therefore, Alfresco could prove useful to companies with "lots of different kinds of configurations" in their environments, Reidy said.

The London company, which was formed in 2005, has received its share of buzz in the marketplace and claims more than 500 enterprise customers. It also boasts a high-profile leadership team. Powell was formerly chief operating officer of Business Objects, while CTO John Newton founded the content management vendor Documentum.

After launching, Alfresco "quickly shifted their marketing from being an open-source alternative to Documentum to being an open-source alternative to SharePoint," Reidy said. "SharePoint is really the disrupter in the content management market now. Presenting itself as an alternative to that is a good story to tell."

"They're smart to not position it as a rip-and-replace, because so many people are early on in their SharePoint implementations," she added.

The new release also features Alfresco Surf, a Web development toolkit; and a preview version of Alfresco Share, a social-networking and collaboration application due in September.

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