Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: 'Alfresco Share' by Amita Bhandari

Alfresco Share - Enterprise Collaboration and Efficient Social Content Management is a new book from Packt Publishing which became available in March 2012.  The book's authors are Amita Bhandari, Vinita Choudhary, and Pallika Majmudar, all consultants at Cignex.

This is the first third-party publication devoted entirely to a general discussion of Alfresco Share.  It provides a detailed feature summary of the Share product.  And surprisingly, the book already describes version 4 of Share, which is the latest major version of the Share Enterprise software and which was only just released in February.
The book targets readers that are new to Alfresco.  While much of the book's content doesn't really go beyond what's available in the Alfresco on-line documentation and wiki, the difference here is that it includes numerous screenshots that clearly illustrate the features and steps for configuring and using Share.

The authors took considerable care in creating the book's artwork.  Many of the images are annotated screenshots or are compact composite screenshots that describe the multiple steps needed to perform an operation.  I'd recommend viewing the electronic version of the book which contains color artwork, rather than the print version which has only grayscale images.

The book runs more than 300 pages and is split into 10 chapters.

The first chapter provides a brief overview of collaboration capabilities in Share and includes a brief description of a marketing site case study based on Share.

The second chapter dives into installation of the Alfresco repository and Share.  It is a bit long and includes in-depth details about installing many of the components and features that Alfresco offers. Most new users of Share will probably not need this level of detail.  They can simply use the standard Alfresco wizard install and be up and running with most of the needed Share features automatically installed and configured.

Developers will find some introductory technical material about the architecture of Share in Chapter 3. Readers primarily interested in how to use Share could skip that chapter.

It's not really until page 90 that the discussion about Share as an application begins.

Chapter 4 discusses Administration: Security, Creating/Deleting/Disabling users, Groups, Dashboards, Themes
Chapter 5 discusses how to set up a site, send invites, set site roles, and configure page features
Chapter 6 discusses collaboration tools within Share: the wiki, blog, data lists, calendar and links
Chapter 7 discusses the document library: the document list and details pages, document actions, versioning, thumbnails and web previews.  (Click here to read Chapter 7 as a sample chapter.)
Chapter 8 discusses rules-based simple workflows and out-of-the-box 'advanced' workflows based on Activiti
Chapter 9 discusses Share configurations, like creating a custom content model, configuring advanced workflow, configuring data lists, and making configurations in the file.  While this information is good, it serves more as a starting point for how to do these types of customizations.  For most of these topics, you'll probably need to supplement this reading with documentation from somewhere else.

Chapter 10 goes back to a developer perspective and describes setting up a development environment and describes different options (JAR vs AMP) for how to deploy customizations to Share.

So, should you buy this book?  If you're new to Alfresco and just getting started with Share, this book will probably save you time that you would have otherwise spent navigating the Alfresco documentation, wiki and forums.  So for new users, I think that this book could be worth getting.

But if you've already been using Share for some time, you won't find too much new here.  And if you're looking for developer-specific information on Share, you probably won't find enough information here to warrant the purchase.

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