Saturday, September 5, 2009

KnowledgeTree/Alfresco revisited

With apologies for the following, long ramble...

Mike Hatfield (from Alfresco) commented on my post about comparing KnowledgeTree and Alfresco. To be fair, I'd like to revise part of it here. Please keep in mind that I'm a total amateur with Document Management Systems (DMSs) and the CMIS protocol. Much of my previous post was based on first impression.

Defining my needs. I need a document management system to manage (store) and search other people's documents, regardless of their format (doc, pdf, etc.). Both KnowledgeTree and Alfresco do this nicely, both having more or less the same open source tools sets in their backend. These include:

  • OpenOffice for file conversion
  • Lucene for indexing/searching
  • MySQL for storage of metadata

Both tools are designed for collaboration and development of documents. I need neither of these features. The feature set that I want/need is only a minuscule part of what either tool provides (the word "overkill" might be used here). However because both Alfresco and KnowledgeTree meet my requirements so well, I'm still unable to decide which tool better fits my needs.

Document descriptions. Alfresco has this feature built-in. It shows up in search results. A document description can be added to KnowledgeTree's metadata via "Document Fieldsets" under "Document Metadata and Workflow Configuration". I haven't yet figured out how to get this description to show up as part of the search results, like it does in Alfresco.

File storage. Neither tool stores the file using the original filename. This practice has both its pros and cons. The big advantage is that filename collisions (a very bad condition for DMS tools) is avoided. A minor shortcoming (if it is that) is that you have to always access the file via your tool of choice (e.g., KnowledgeTree or Alfresco).

User interface. I'd confused Mike Hatfield by stating "demo built into installed software". This statement was based on my first impressions of Alfresco's interface. The tabs "My Alfresco", "Company Home", "My Home", and "Guest Home", along with the "Demonstration" and "Feature Tour" links, lend to the impression that the front end is intended more for a demo presentation than a working interface.

Keeping in mind that Alfresco and KnowledgeTree both have much more capability than what I needed (i.e., just document storage/search), it struck me that I'd need to put a bit of extra work on Alfresco's web interface.

After using the tool for a bit, this impression was erroneous. It's just that the interface takes a little time before it becomes "comfortable".

Backups. Alfresco is written in Java. Alfresco strikes me as being easier to back up because, other than the requisite external tools (OpenOffice, dot, etc.), you only have to copy the MySQL database and the folder in which Alfresco is stored. In short, the web server is incorporated into Alfresco. It "plays well" (ignores/doesn't conflict) with any other Apache install.

KnowledgeTree is written in PHP and relies upon an Apache instance, either upon your existing Apache install or installing one if you lack it. It takes a bit of work to wedge KnowledgeTree into a separate instance of Apache (though you really don't need to). The end result is backing up KnowledgeTree becomes part of your process of backing up your web server, while backing up Alfresco means copying a folder (both require backing up MySQL).

Unneeded features. By this, I mean features that I don't need, not unneeded features in the tool. Both tools have many more features (workflow, collaboration, etc.) than what I need. It's just that, for what I do need, both tools work so wonderfully well.

Problem (if you can view it as such): Mashups of toolsets, with Alfresco or KnowledgeTree, are possible via the CMIS protocol. This means that you can connect Alfresco or KnowledgeTree to other tools such as Drupal, SugarCRM, or ProcessMaker. I already have a large time investment in specific tools (e.g., MediaWiki) and neither works well with what I have. This means that I tend to treat both as stand-alone tools. (At one point, Alfresco did have an interface for Mediawiki. Because both tools are actively updated, this interface didn't survive upgrade.)

Mike, I did look at the Share interface and do see a lot of nice features there. It looks quite interesting and I'll probably grow into it. At the moment, it's much more than what I need.

To tell the truth, I still haven't decided on which tool to go with. The differences (for me) boil down to a couple minor differences in search results. Alfresco includes the document description as part of the search results. KnowledgeTree includes an excerpt of each document's text (ala Google) as part of the search results. Neither provides both; I want both. (Poor me!)