Alfresco Mobile iPad application – a short review

I’ve been trying to write this post for a veeery long time. Actually, I can use the application itself to tell me how long: “58 days ago” it says near the first offline downloaded document.

First things first. I aimed to review the app in order to compare it to the EMC Documentum iPad app which was also released in the same time neighborhood (also reviewed by me previously). I was very curious to see if an Open Source mindset generates something different and how.

Installation

I downloaded the app and clicked on it. And… it worked! I mean, it was already connected to a public Alfresco repository which I could browse and use immediately. I must say, this was very nice.

Comparing with the EMC Documentum app where I had to walk through a convoluted server install process in order to connect the freshly downloaded App to the Content Server, this was like a sunshine coming after a storm.

Grade? 10 out of 10

Ok, the app worked, I was very happy, but I needed to make it connect to my Alfresco installation, not the internet public one.

Configuration

The app configuration options are not within the app itself but they are within the Settings area of the iPad. This is different from how EMC did it. in the EMC app, the cofiguration is within the app. I’m not sure which I like more. I tend to like the EMC approach more, even though I appreciate the fact that Alfresco uses the Apple guidelines on how an application should expose its settings.

But there is more than meets the eye. The Alfresco App can be configured to connect to 1 and only 1 Alfresco installation. Switching to another installation can be done only by entering the iPad Settings area again and modifying the existing parameters. The EMC Documentum App allows you to have multiple profiles, each mapped to one repository and you can switch between them from within the app itself, without needing to modify any of them.

I think EMC got it better here. A lot better. I would have expected Alfresco to be more in tune with the thought of having multiple alternative connections, since you can more easily find multiple Alfresco instances in an organization than multiple Documentum ones (after all, Alfresco does tend to be used at departmental/division level).

Grade: 8 out of 10

Prerequisites

What do I need to install on the Alfresco server in order to have the App connect to it? Nothing. Nada. Zip. You have Alfresco? If yes, then you have also the CMIS services there and this is all the Alfresco iPad App needs to.

Easy as it gets. Grade: 10 out of 10

What do you need if you want the EMC Documentum iPad App? Don’t get me started! Read my previous post.

Features

I will not do in great detail here. Mainly because I did not explore it all in detail and I must say my knowledge of Documentum exceeds the one I have on Alfresco so I’m trying to keep it as fair as possible here.

The Alfresco iPad App has the usual browsing/searching/offline download/tasks(activities) features you would expect. Similar with the EMC Documentum iPad App.

Where I have seen a diffrence is that:
1. you can actually see the content of documents from within the app 🙂 (in the Documentum App you can’t have that without installing yet another software)
2. you ca ADD content. So the application is not only a readonly view of the repository. Which is very good.

I’ll give it a 9 out of 10 for features. Because there is always room for more here.

Overall impression

One thing to note here is that the Alfresco App is actually a relatively small modification of the FreshDocs app from ZIA Consulting (which is another CMIS browser app on iOS). Which goes to show that open source companies tend to be more agile in their partnership strategy and more open about it.

Another thing which I very much appreciate with the Alfresco iPad App is that it follows Apple design recommendations for design. It’s very simple and straightfoward to use. This differs a bit from the EMC approach, which followed the style of the Twitter iPad application – more colorful and with the sliding decked panes. Although the EMC has more eye candy, I must say I prefer the Alfresco decision. Plus, is an universal (iPad & iPhone app).

And another thing: The Alfresco iPad App connects to the content server using CMIS. The EMC Documentum iPad App connects using a (yet another) proprietary communication protocol. not DFS, not CMIS. Eating your own dogfood? 🙂

Last but not least, since the applications were initially launched (more or less at the same time), the Alfresco App already had a new release with new functionality. And that says a lot.

Did I say “last”? I was wrong. The Alfresco iOS App xCode source code is indeed open source.

Good job, Alfresco.

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2 thoughts on “Alfresco Mobile iPad application – a short review

  1. [Disclaimer: I am an EMC employee working in the Documentum division (IIG)]
    Two comments:
    1. Is that ’10’ on Installation and Pre-requisites double-counting? I mean, the reason you had an install process with the EMC product was because there isn’t a public cloud version available, right? I would like to hear your comparison of the Alfresco server install process to the Documentum one – that might make the Installation comparison apples to apples.
    2. CMIS vs ‘proprietary protocol’. The services that we are using are REST-based. Of course, the service layer is proprietary, but CMIS is currently quite limited. If you wanted to start a workflow, set a retention policy, or do anything outside the scope of CMIS you’re stuck. I appreciate the Documentum iPad app might not expose all that functionality today, but it has the potential to in future releases. The point is that the Documentum native services are much more powerful than CMIS. When we open up the services API for 3rd party development, I’m confident that this will be appreciated. Also, we actually are using the same services layer as DFS underneath so this is some dogfooding there.

    • Hi Ahson,
      I needed to give a 10 for installation to Alfresco because they managed to make the process simple and flawless as I learned to expect for mobile apps on my iPad. EMC decided they need additional server components to install (only for this mobile app to work, not for the whole stack). Comparing the stacks installation… I wouldn’t go there in this case. It just looks that the Alfresco stack was more ready to accept a mobile implementation at this stage. By the way… it would have been a great addon to Documentum OnDemand as a public cloud :), I’m really sorry I didn’t see that happening.

      I agree the CMIS is limited at this stage. And I know from practice that implementations vary a lot even if it’s a standard. So I understand the decision to go with a proprietary service layer. But I need to admire the commitment from Alfresco to make CMIS ootb available and use it in a public facing app. As on how this limited functionality affects the mobile app… at the surface the Alfresco app has a bit more features than the current EMC one. Of course this might change in the future.

      Opening up the services API?! That’s indeed good news. From what I’ve seen until now reading the REST stream it looks really nice and well thought up. You can count on me to use it as soon as it’s open for partners.

      Your comment triggered a post: https://lopataru.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/getting-mobile-apps-to-the-enterprise/. Thank you for the feedback, I very much appreciate it.

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