Alfresco released Alfresco Labs (Beta) 3 today and with it announced a new capability that enables businesses to leverage Microsoft Sharepoint functionality without buying additional Sharepoint licenses. Sound too good to be true? It’s not, and what has allowed Alfresco to do this is the 2004 EU Commission order for Microsoft to publish the Sharepoint protocol. Apparently, Alfresco is the first ECM vendor to take advantage of the Sharepoint protocol availability. I spoke to Alfresco CEO John Powell about the significance of this announcement.
“I think is really a game changing announcement,” Powell says. “The core of Microsoft growth is based around Office, the server products and Sharepoint. I think this is a huge announcement in terms of giving people the ability to choose.”
Alfresco is aiming straight at the heart of Microsoft enterprise dominance with this release. “We wanted to eliminate the advantage Microsoft has with the Office monopoly and this eliminates that advantage for Microsoft because now a user can choose to use Alfresco as easily as they would choose to use Sharepoint.” What’s more, Powell explains, even if you have an existing Sharepoint investment, you can start using an Alfresco repository along side it.
Powell recognizes he is taking on Microsoft head-on, and he frankly sounds like a man who welcomes the challenge from Redmond (or anyone else for that matter). [Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer] would probably stand there and say that Sharepoint is the better product, and if that’s true, he’s got absolutely nothing to worry about.” He adds, “If he beats his chest and says we are not playing fair or whatever, like this is some closed secret of Microsoft, then I think that proves that Sharepoint is the worse product, but if it’s really as good a product as they say, then should not be ashamed to have it compete fairly with Alfresco”
Powell is acutely aware of the success of Sharepoint in the market place, but Alfresco’s studies found that while end users clearly like it, IT staff wasn’t as enamored. What his company has done is beat Microsoft at its own game by leaving the same Sharepoint menus in Office that users are used to seeing. To the end user, it’s completely transparent—they still have an identical Sharepoint experience—but at the back end, the content is being stored in an Alfresco content repository, rather than Sharepoint. Meanwhile IT can work in whatever systems it likes. “They’re able to leverage other infrastructure investments in data centers, maybe the Java world, maybe Linux—to be able to deploy a much more cost effective and scalable solution to meet their content management needs,” Powell says. He adds, “It’s very good news for the CIO who clearly has had a tough time negotiating with a monopoly.”
Alfresco fully expects since they are open source, others will soon follow with similar capabilities, but Powell says, he’s not afraid of the challenge and even welcomes it because he believes his product will stand up to the scrutiny. In fact, he’s surprised nobody else has taken advantage of the availability of the Sharepoint protocol information to this point.
Whatever happens with this, the fact is someone is taking a shot straight at Microsoft’s most dominant and profitable position, inside the enterprise. As others begin to develop similar capabilities, and more widespread competition opens up, enterprise IT departments will see the alternatives and choose the best product. To that I say, may the best company win.