Advanced Collaboration using Alfresco Share

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How to customize, use, and administer this powerful, Open Source Java-based Enterprise CMS

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by Munwar Shariff Vinita Choudhary | July 2009 | Content Management Open Source

In this article by Munwar Shariff and Vinita Choudhary, you'll learn about Alfresco Share. We will walk you through The Alfresco Share User Interface, creating and managing collaborative web sites, customizing and managing your dashboard and a lot more.

Today, collaboration and team effort have become critical factors, both inside and outside of the workplace. More and more users want simplicity and familiarity with the tools they use day in and day out. They achieve this by searching in Google, reading in Wikipedia, writing on a blog, finding people on Facebook, being notified in a simple RSS reader, viewing friends, activities on Facebook, and bringing all of this together in iGoogle. Alfresco Share delivers all of this functionality to enterprise users, projects, and teams.

Imagine a business user, if given the permission, being able to set up their project web site quickly, being able to invite users to the site, and assign permissions to users within that web site. What previously required a customized solution is now offered out of the box by Alfresco Share.

Alfresco Share

Alfresco Share (referred to simply as Share from now on) is built on the Alfresco enterprise-class document repository, and delivers out of the box collaborative content management. It simplifies the capture, sharing, and retrieval of information across virtual teams. Team members or project members can rapidly find relevant content or excerpts, look at past or similar projects, and stay on top of any relevant changes, in order to make them more efficient.

Share is focused on collaboration tasks and includes integration with popular blogging, Wiki, and forum or discussion products, out of the box. It provides a great interface into more traditional document management libraries (think folders) as well. Keep in mind that all of the web site's contents and documents are still stored in the Alfresco repository. Therefore they are secured, versioned, searchable, and auditable.

Share is an independent client application that accesses the repository through web scripts. It is built on the Alfresco Surf (referred to simply as Surf from now on) platform. Alfresco Share is a web application that runs on a machine that is separate from that of the repository.

Share provides a paradigm for creating collaborative applications by aggregating Surf components, and incorporating new Surf components as they are developed. With Share, users can modify their workspaces to fit their collaborative requirements inside or outside of the organization. Users can invite their peers to share and collaborate on the project and the content. With the addition of Share, Alfresco delivers a Web 2.0 application that leverages Flash and AJAX with a polished interface, which any business person can enjoy.

Features like Document Libraries, Search, Activity Feeds, Virtual Teams, personalized dashboard, N-tier Architecture, and draft CMIS support make it a really competent tool for collaborative content management. Share allows you to:

  • Bulk-upload content, select content from thumbnails, and view it in a Flash viewer. The content is automatically generated in Flash format. This allows users to view content regardless of the original format.
  • Search for people and experts to contribute to their projects as easily as searching for content. Share provides updates on what is new in a project, especially details of content that has been added, edited, or commented upon. Share can track deliverables and import the information into your personal calendar by using iCal.
  • Use an interactive interface to configure a customizable dashboard, and sites, based on what is critical to a specific role or project. Share allows you to create a virtual team for projects and communities.
  • Develop applications in an environment that uses lightweight scripting and reusable components, as well as deliver scalability and allow more users to access existing resources.

The URL to access the Alfresco Share application is different from the URL used to access Alfresco Explorer. The Alfresco Share application can be launched in the web browser by visiting the URL, http://<server name> /share/

If you have already installed Alfresco in Windows, then you can invoke the Alfresco Share application by selecting the application, as shown in the following screenshot:

Advanced Collaboration using Alfresco Share

You need to provide your authentication credentials, which are similar to those used in the Alfresco Share application. For the administrator, the default username and password are both admin.

Once you have been authenticated, the Administrator Dashboard will be displayed, as shown in the following screenshot. At the top of the page you will find the application toolbar. This toolbar contains links to the various Share pages.

Your Administrator Dashboard will look similar to the following screenshot:

These components are as follows:

  • Getting Started: This dashlet displays the instructions for getting started, and provides you with links to perform common tasks
  • My Profile: This dashlet contains a summary of the personal details provided in your user profile
  • Sites: This component displays the Site Finder page, where you can search for specific sites and manage the membership of Share sites
  • People: This component displays the People Finder page, where you search for specific Share users
  • Help: This component displays the online help available for Alfresco Share
  • Logout: This component logs you out of the Alfresco Share application
  • Search: This component enables you to perform a quick search for content in the current site, or across all of the sites
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My Dashboard

This is your personal dashboard and consists of dashlets that allow you to track all of the information that is relevant to you. These dashlets appear on your personal dashboard and on site dashboards. Each dashlet provides a summarized view of a page. However, the presence of a corresponding page is not mandatory. Wherever a page exists, it generates the contents of the related dashlet.

When customizing your personal dashboard, each dashlet that you select is displayed as a pane on the dashboard. The following dashlets are available:

  • Getting Started: This dashlet displays the instructions for getting started, and provides you with links to perform common tasks.
  • My Profile: This dashlet contains a summary of the personal details provided in your user profile.
  • My Sites: This dashlet displays all of the sites that you have either created or are a member of. You can access a site from this dashlet. Creating or deleting a site can be done by using this dashlet.
  • My Calendar: This dashlet provides a list of events that you have created, as well as events for each site that you are a member of.
  • My Tasks: This dashlet displays a list of all of your incomplete tasks.
  • My Activities: This dashlet maintains the most recent activities that have been performed for any site that you are a member of.
  • Documents I'm Editing: This dashlet displays all of the files that you currently have checked out from any Document Library.
  • Alfresco Network: This is a portal that gives Alfresco Share customers access to the latest Alfresco news.
  • RSS Feed: This dashlet is configured to display the Alfresco web site feed. This is the default setting.
  • CMIS Feed: This dashlet displays links specific to the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) specification and implementation.

Customize your dashboard

You can customize your personal dashboard to suit your purposes. You can modify the dashboard layout, select the dashlets that will appear in your dashboard, or configure the order in which the selected dashlets are displayed.

To customize the dashboard layout and its contents, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the My Dashboard option on the toolbar
  2. Click on the Customize Dashboard button on the dashboard banner. As a result, the Customize User Dashboard page appears

The image in the Current Layout section represents the current layout. The Dashlets section displays the current selection of dashlets, as they will appear on your dashboard.

To change the dashboard layout, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the Change Layout. This opens a page that lists the available dashboard layouts.
  2. You can select a layout by clicking on it or on the Select button beside it.
    To add, remove, or rearrange dashlets, carry out the following steps:
    • Click on the Add Dashlets option to display the available dashlets
    • Click on the desired dashlet in the Add Dashlets section and drag it to the desired column
    • To remove a dashlet, click on the dashlet and drag it to the bin
    • Click and drag the dashlets up and down, within and across columns, to set the display order
    • Click on the OK button to save your changes

Now your dashboard has been customized as per your selections, and will display the selected dashlets in the order specified and with the layout chosen.

My Profile

The profile page contains your detailed personal and business information. Share publishes these credentials for all of the site members to view.

Viewing your full profile

You can access your User Profile to review the information that is being published to the site members. You can access your My Profile page from anywhere in Share.

In order to view your complete profile, click on the My Profile option on the toolbar. Alternatively, on your dashboard, you can click on the View full profile option in the My Profile dashlet. As a result, the User Profile page will be displayed.

Editing your profile

You can edit your profile in order to manage the information about you that is available to the site members. In addition to personal and business information, you can also upload a photograph.

In order to edit your user profile, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the My Profile option on the toolbar. The User Profile page appears.
  2. Click on the Edit Profile button. Fields that currently specify your information are displayed. Mandatory fields are marked with an asterisk (*).
  3. Edit the User Profile details, making changes and adding new information as desired.

In order to upload a photo to be displayed along with your profile, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the Upload button in the Photo section. Click on the Browse button on the Upload File page.
  2. Browse to and then Upload the image. The selected file appears in the Upload File page. Click Remove to delete the file listed.
  3. Click Upload File(s) to upload the picture.
  4. Click on the Save Changes to save the profile details. The User Profile page now displays your updated User Profile.
  5. If a profile picture already exists, uploading a new photo will replace the existing picture. The User Profile page now displays your updated profile.

Changing your password

You can also reset your password, for example for security reasons. To change your password, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the My Profile option on the toolbar, which opens the User Profile page. Next, click on the Change Password option, which will display the Change Password page.
  2. In the Enter Old Password box, type your current password. In the Enter New Password box, type your new password. In the Confirm New Password box, type the new password again.
  3. Click on the OK button to complete the password reset process. You are then returned to your User Profile page.

Sites

A site is a collaborative area for a project or some task that is being undertaken. Sites can be either public or private sites.

Private sites are visible only to site members. A Site Manager must extend an invitation to you in order for you to be able to and become a member of the private site.

Public sites can be viewed by everyone, but can be worked on only by the site members. The tasks that can be performed by a member user, depends on the role assigned to him or her.

From the Sites option on the toolbar, you can create a new site or display the Site Finder component. This component allows you to search for a particular site or display a list of all of the web sites that you can access, the sites created by you, sites (public and private) of which you are a member, and Share public sites. From the site list, you can enter a site, delete a site, and manage your site membership.

Creating a site

You can create a site from anywhere in the application by using the Sites option on the toolbar. You can make the site a public or a private site. If you create a site, you become the Site Manager. A site can also have multiple Site Managers.

We shall create a sample site named Alfresco Book project and use that as a basis for explaining how to use a site with Alfresco Share.

To create a site, carry out the following steps:

  1. On the toolbar, expand the Sites option, and then click on the Create Site option. Alternatively, on your personal dashboard, you can click on the Create Site option on the My Sites dashlet. As a result, the Create Site page appears as shown in the following screenshot:
  2. Advanced Collaboration using Alfresco Share

  3. Complete the site information by filling in the fields, namely the Name, URL name, and Description. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are, mandatory. The site name is a descriptive name that will be displayed as the title of your site. This is a mandatory field. Enter Alfresco Book project as the site name.
  4. The URL name is a short version of the name to be used as the URL. It cannot have any special characters or spaces. In the URL name option, alfrescobookproject has been entered as the URL.
  5. Specify the type of site access. By default, each new site has public access. To create a private site, clear the Make Site Public checkbox.
  6. Finally, click on the OK button.
  7. The application now displays the site dashboard of the newly-created site.
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Searching for a site

You can search for a site from the Sites tab on the toolbar.

To search for a site, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the Sites tab on the toolbar. The Site Finder component appears.
  2. In the search box, type the full or partial name of the site that you are searching for, and then click the Search button. Leave the search box empty and click on the Search button to return a list of all of the public sites, sites that you created, and sites of which you are a member (both public and private).
  3. The results' list appears below the search box, and displays all of the existing sites that match the criteria entered. This list includes only public sites, sites created by you, and private sites of which you are a member of.

To the right hand side of a site, the action Join indicates that you are not a member of that site. Similarly, the action Leave indicates that you are currently a member of that site. In order to enter a site from this page, you must click on the site name.

Managing your site membership

You can choose to join or leave a site. Managing membership is easy in Alfresco share.To manage your site membership, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the Sites tab on the toolbar. The Site Finder page appears.
  2. Perform a search. The results list appears below the Search box.
  3. In the results list, you can manage your membership on sites by clicking on the Join option to become a member of a site. Click on the Leave option to remove yourself from the site, that you no longer wish to be a member of.

Deleting a site

Deleting a site means to permanently remove it from the repository. Deleting a site also removes all of the site content, including the Document Library content, Wiki pages, Blog posts, and discussion topics. Only a Site Manager or the application administrator can delete a site.

To delete a site, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the Sites tab on the toolbar. The Site Finder page appears.
  2. Perform a search. The results list appears below the search box. If a site can be deleted, then the Delete button is displayed for that site.

  3. Click on the Delete button for the site that you want to delete. A message prompts you to confirm the deletion.
  4. Click on the OK button to delete the selected site. A message informs you that the selected action deletes all of the site content. Click on the Yes button. As a result, the selected site is deleted in its entirety.

People

The People tab on the toolbar displays the People Finder page. You can use this search feature to find a particular user. Once the user has been found, you can view the user's full profile.

Searching for a user

The People Finder page enables you to search for a particular user and allows you to view the user's profile from the list displayed.

To search for a user, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the People tab on the toolbar, and as a result the People Finder page appears. In the search box, type the full or partial name of the desired user. You must enter a minimum of three characters. The search is not case-sensitive.
  2. Click on the Search option. The results list appears beneath the search box and displays all of the users that match the search criteria provided. Click on a user's name to view the user's profile.

Using your personal dashboard

You can view the details of and perform operations on the dashlets that make up your personal dashboard.

Entering a site

You can enter a site from the My Sites dashlet on your personal dashboard. This dashlet lists all of the sites that you created or of which you are a member. We shall use the Alfresco Book project Site, which was created in the earlier example, as the sample site to help us to understand all of the operations that can be performed on or for a site.

If the site that you want to access is not listed in the My Sites dashlet, you can search for it using the Site Finder page. If the desired site does not exist, then click on the Create Site option to create it.

To access a site, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the My Dashboard component on the toolbar, if your personal dashboard is not already displayed.
  2. On the My Sites dashlet, click on the site that you wish to enter. The application displays the site.

Configure the personal dashboard RSS feed

The Alfresco Global Feed can be configured to display any RSS feed on your dashboard.

This appears as the RSS Feed dashlet on the Customize User Dashboard page.

To configure the RSS feed, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the My Dashboard component on the toolbar, if your personal dashboard is not already displayed.
  2. In the Alfresco Global Feed dashlet, click on Configure. The Enter URL dialog box is displayed. Enter the link of the feed that you want to subscribe to in the URL field.
  3. In the Number of items to display field, select the number of items to be displayed in the dashlet for the specified feed. Select All in order to display all of the items available for the feed.
  4. You can select the Open links in new window option to have the target story displayed in a new window. Click on the OK button, and the Alfresco Global Feed dashlet displays the feeds for the URL specified, as shown in the following screenshot:

View scheduled events

    

The My Calendar personal dashlet summarizes the scheduled items from all of the sites that you are associated with. It contains a rolled-up view of events that you have created, as well as events for each site that you are associated with, either as a member or as the Site Manager.

To view the events, you must first configure your personal dashboard to display the My Calendar personal dashlet.

To view scheduled events, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the My Dashboard tab on the toolbar, if your personal dashboard is not already displayed. The My Calendar personal dashlet displays the name, date, and time of each event, as well as the site in which it was created.
  2. With the help of the My Calendar dashlet, you can view additional information about an event:
    • Click on the event name to display the Calendar page where the event was created. This is a convenient method of accessing and editing the events that you have created
    • Click on the site name to display the corresponding site dashboard

Using the Alfresco Network

The Alfresco Network personal dashlet displays the most recent Alfresco news and information, conveniently on your personal dashboard.

To view this information, you must first configure your personal dashboard to display the Alfresco Network personal dashlet.

To use the Alfresco Network dashlet, carry out the following steps:

  1. Click on the My Dashboard tab on the toolbar, if your personal dashboard is not already displayed. The Alfresco Network personal dashlet displays links to information including the news items, knowledge base, and downloads.
  2. Click on a link present on the Alfresco Network dashlet, in order to open the associated content in a separate window.

Using a site

We shall use the Alfresco Book project site as an example to explain the various aspects of using the site. By default, sites include Wiki, Blog, Document Library, Calendar, and Discussion Forum pages. However, you can customize the site to contain any combination of these components.

When you enter the Alfresco Book project site, the site dashboard is displayed. The site dashboard consists of site dashlets, which organize and display information that is relevant to the site.

When you customize the Alfresco Book project site dashboard, you can specify the desired dashlets. Each dashlet that is selected is displayed as a tab on the dashboard. The tabs available on the site are:

Getting Started

The Getting Started tab displays helpful information for getting started in the Alfresco Book project site, and provides links to common tasks.

Site Profile

The Site Profile tab contains a summary of the personal details provided in your full user profile.

Site Colleagues

The Site Colleagues tab lists all of the Alfresco Book project site members and the roles assigned to them.

Site Calendar

The Site Calendar tab contains a rolled-up view of events for the Alfresco Book project site.

Site Activities

The Site Activities tab tracks the most recent activities that have been performed on the site.

Recently Modified Documents

The Recently Modified Documents tab displays the documents present in this site's Document Library that have been added or edited in the past seven days.

Wiki

The Wiki tab displays the specified Wiki page. The Configure link present on the dashlet enables you to select the desired page.

RSS Feed

By default, the RSS Feed tab is configured to display the Alfresco web site feed.

Summary

In this article, we have covered a lot about Alfresco Share User Interface. We also explained how to create and manage collaborative web sites, customize and manage your dashboard.

With the addition of Share, Alfresco delivers a Web 2.0 application that leverages Flash and AJAX with a richer user interface than more traditional document management libraries. Share is heavily focused on collaboration tasks, and includes integration with popular blogs that you can publish to internally and externally, Wiki, and Forum/Discussion products are provided out of the box. Share's ability to perform rapid user site creation, site user invitation, permissions and management is noteworthy.

If you have read this article you may be interested to view :

About the Author :


Munwar Shariff

Munwar Shariff, as a co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at CIGNEX Datamatics, brings over 20 years of industry experience and proven technical leadership. He oversees the enterprise architecture solution team and provides strategic planning to achieve business goals by identifying and prioritizing technology-based services and solutions. Defining initiatives and setting timetables for the evaluation, development, and deployment of pioneering technologies are his areas of expertise.

He is an entrepreneur, open source technologist, and author of the following four technical books:

  • Plone Live
  • Implementing Alfresco
  • Alfresco3 WCM
  • Alfresco3 ECM

He contributes to the open source community by journaling submissions on open source CMS, and has been a featured speaker at AIIM USA, JBoss World, DAM Conference, Plone Conference, Linux World, Gilbane, CTC, Yahoo OSCMS, Saudi Government, and CA World.

Munwar has also served on board at the Plone Foundation and is currently a board member at CIGNEX Datamatics.

Vinita Choudhary

Vinita Choudhary is a senior consultant at CIGNEX. She has extensive experience in working in a variety of environments with cross-functional, multi-cultural teams as a business analyst and has provided feedback on usability and functional gaps in process flows and proposed solutions.

She has re-organized existing repository of documentation, written guidelines for document creation, filing and change control, wrote reference and training material for software developers and published the same. She is involved in providing presales support to the sales team and has worked on process streamlining for the company and various documentation aspects. Vinita holds a Masters in Computer Applications degree from Gujarat University, India.

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