Funny little story about open source business models and trends: this story goes about the long time discussed and awaited Alfresco Confluence integration, and goes back of almost one year. Confluence is the Enterprise wiki solution from Atlassian, while Alfresco…well I guess it does not need introductions on this blog
This project started in June 2009 hosted in Google code as joint open source initiative by Alfresco and an Alfresco pan-european partner, Sourcesense: originally hosted on Google Code under the name “Confluence Alfresco Plugin“. The project was originally meant to provide access to Alfresco documents from Confluence macros, and was based on the Alfresco proprietary webscripts ReST API. After a promising initial implementation was drafted, the project has not seen any commits as of Jun 2009: the reason behind this sudden stop was that this implementation was based on very specific Alfresco APIs, and the rise of an Open Standard like CMIS would have made such an approach an early obsolete product.
Where one seem to stop, another rises from its ashes: as natural continuation of the Confluence Alfresco project, in the very same mid 2009 in Google Code a new project is opened under the, more generic, name of Confluence CMIS Plugin. As the name suggests, the scope of this set of Confluence macros was, not just to integrate Alfresco, but to provide Confluence a more generic support for any CMIS compliant repository: this open source & open standard approach was based on the initial versions of Apache Chemistry Java client, still under heavy development at that time, but already attracted some buzz in the Confluence community.
Almost one year has passed since then, and I keep on receiving requests (almost on a weekly basis) from Alfresco partners and customers interested in an Enterprise solution for Alfresco Confluence integration.
Looking a bit deeper at the project’s mailing lists you can find some hint of what’s going on:
- On one hand, from the Confluence CMIS Plugin list, we can read it was recently upgraded to use Chemistry OpenCMIS, the Apache Java CMIS client library. Lots of activity ongoing on Google code and an initial APLv2 licensed release out there. At the moment of this writing it’s providing interesting CMIS macros for Confluence, capable to work against any CMIS repository.
- On the other hand, the Confluence Alfresco list has seen lots of marketing and mailing activitiy going over in the last period, announcing a soon to be released plugin based on Alfresco ReST API: while there’s a nice demo, no new code was checked in Google Code as of 2009 and maybe the project will be moved to the Atlassian Plugins library. Also, it’s unclear whether it would be released as open source or proprietary ATM.
Sounds a bit like the ant vs grasshopper battle, doesn’t it?
First of all, I must say I really do hope the two efforts will soon be consolidated into one, both from an open source contributor and also Alfresco business perspective. Still for now, we’ll have to stick and choose one.
Those who know me already might already be guessing this: at the moment, I quite like the approach of the Confluence CMIS plugin, and not only because you can actually check out the code from Google Code / get snapshot releases NOW and have macros in your Confluence to work against any CMIS repository.
Ah, and also not just because I’m a committer in the Apache project (Chemistry) developing OpenCMIS, which is now used by this plugin
The reason is instead that I really do prefer an open approach to ECM, especially about building integrations, and that comes out of the my very personal idea of software development.
IMHO, being software development a process, there’s more to it than just a good mix of high quality code and good sales/marketing skills: to build a successful (and scalable) solution, you need to have a sustainable and lean process backing up the development of your solution, a process where systems and people can interact on standards basis and clear information flows, like the ones a controlled open source process can offer.
Alfresco CMIS integration story, is just one example of how the very same solution can be approached in multiple ways: with no doubt, from my perspective, the CMIS based approach is bound to be superior in terms of longevity and maintainability (thus reliability of the business model).
Also, in order to achieve a much broader target, it might be beneficial to keep it in the open source arena: this way, it might get the resonance and the broader adoption that the Confluence community is waiting to actually start consolidating content in more advanced ECM platforms like Alfresco (or any other CMIS compliant server), based on top notch libraries like OpenCMIS (BTW, we’re working toward a first release out soon).
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not just a Stallmann style fundamentalist: it’s still perfectly possible to develop proprietary (and maybe enterprise specific) extensions which might use a different licensing and business model, and maybe Alfresco specific capabilities. I just believe that for core ECM functionalities and product integration, it’s just always better to stick to the standard (especially after all the work put into the CMIS process).
And that sounds especially reasonable, if you think that both Alfresco (LGPL licensed) and Confluence (offering free hosting for Open Source projects) have important stakes in the Open Source community and potentially customer/prospects which value the extended benefits of an Open (source + standard) approach.
And if you not convinced yet, I have few more thoughts on what I mean by Open (source and standard) ECM …