Alfresco DevCon 2011: First day highlights

Did you participate Alfresco DevCon in London or San Diego? If so – please do share also your thoughts and experiences. If not, then hopefully this post will convince you to come next year and hopefully also gives some ideas on what were cool topics this year.

Program for the day one looked like this, click for larger image:

Besides these presentations there was also few extra presentations done by guys from Westernacher, but somehow they were outside the printed program.

One really cool thing in DevCon was that there weren’t any unrelated keynotes or talks given by sponsors. Everything was relevant to developers and you were able to find really interesting sessions to fill your day. Unfortunately some really interesting things overlapped each other – so it was hard to choose, which sessions to participate and which to try to digest just based on materials. Luckily Alfresco did something quite exceptional – they provided access to most of the conference presentation materials before hand, if you had an Apple iOS device and could try the new Alfresco mobile application. Normally you have to decide your schedule only based on short abstracts in the conference catalog.

Theme for the conference was ”Level up” – which naturally struck a chord with geeks who grew in 70’s and 80’s.

I missed parts of the keynotes, but was in time to hear John Newton’s talk.

If you haven’t seen John perform his talks, I suggest you come and see him some day. Though he is not Steve Jobs, he is a solid orator and performer – presenting ideas clearly and entertainingly.

Big themes continued on stories started last year and resonated with the audience.

Jabs towards Nokia and Microsoft were justified and overall the theme on continuing consumerization of technology was well taken in the audience, as it is old news. This year keynote extended the story with Alfresco’s thoughts about the cloud – as well as with improved story for social collaboration.

I really liked the metaphor of ”Cook, Dine, Snack” – which was used to describe different kinds of tools as well as environments of content consumption – which kinda nicely captures also the fact how the world works. Our systems should not be aimed to just single type of consumption, but enable whatever our users might want and need in the future. I am huge proponent of open data as well as social business systems, so John’s talk was just preaching to the choir for me.

At the same time while talking about strategy, it was fun to see the three horizons model used from the Alchemy of Growth-book — which I read ages ago when teacher of mine, David Ing, suggested it. From my perspective John didn’t really elaborate what the 3 horions model could mean to the community and partners – which was a bit shame, as the keynote could have been additional place to emphasize the importance of innovating and trying things which are uncertain.

I haven’t been that interested with all the fuzz about Team and Alfresco in the cloud – as those are most likely not relevant services for me and our clients, but during the keynote as well as during the conference we learned that the efforts to make Alfresco work as a great component in the cloud — all the users of Alfresco gain huge amounts technical advances in terms of better scalability as well as improved multitenant features. ( I believe Simon White expressed this thought too in his postings )

To be honest keynote and the product roadmap presentations did not leave everlasting impressions to my mind, as I was partly distracted by my quest to download and quickly browse through the slides of presentations which were already available. I wanted to have a rough feel about what will be in store before I would make my final judgements on which sessions to take.

However the overall feeling after the keynote was: wow, Alfresco has achieved so much in just six years and is going very strong. There is no doubt that the future of Alfresco will be interesting and we shall see more innovations in the content management sector from guys and gals of Alfresco.

Keynote slides are here: http://www.slideshare.net/alfresco/john-newton-devcon-2011-london-keynote and here http://www.slideshare.net/alfresco/john-powell-devcon-2011-london-keynote

Understanding the SOLR integration, Andy Hind

I’m sort of fan of Andy Hind’s technical presentations. Straight to the point and spiced with tidbits of dry humour – which doesn’t get in the way of technical points. In Paris we learned about the internals of indexing in Alfresco – and in London it was about the SOLR-integration.

Big driver for the SOLR transition seems to have been scalability – and for good reason. Indexing / querying as well as transformations are good examples of content services which do not need to stay on the same layer as everything else.

However there are things that one has to be careful about, most importantly the fact that with Solr indexes are only eventually consistent. Eventually consistent could be an issue to you if you rely on indexes providing accurate data all the time – immediately. However you could architect your solution to go around it with other services.

Besides things that will not work like they used to, Solr integration will also bring some cool improvements. Things I’m excited about and want to try in near future: better cross language support and controlling indexing ( enabling / disabling ) with the cm:indexControl aspect. Cross language support is not a big thing for people used to working with just english, but as a finn projects in our neck of the woods most of the time use at least three languages: finnish, swedish and english – so this should definitely be an improvement.

By the way the slides are already online: Slideshare.

At the same time where two other interesting sessions running:

  • Document management with Share
  • Content services for Alfresco

If I hadn’t gone to see the Solr presentation, I most likely should have seen the presentation of content services for Alfresco – as it is something that we will keep bumping into in almost all projects. However as I was looking forward seeing other sessions related to publishing – as well as having the opportunity to talk with people about the subject I opted to go to Andy’s presentation.

Second session I picked was:

Scanning and OCR the open source way, Ian Pope

Ian Pope from Ephesoft basicly had a full session to do a full blown pitch for their product and what it can do. All and all I have to say that Ian had a really entertaining presentation, opening also my eyes to the fact that OCR isn’t just for expensive commercial software vendors – but that there is also some opensource competition in the marketplace.

Other options at the same time were about bulk importing content and what Alfresco cloud will have to offer. Bulk imports haven’t been my cup of tee and what comes to Alfresco in the cloud is something I am waiting to see live before actually subscribing into the message or vision any further. Not because it wouldn’t be interesting, but because it is not that relevant at this moment.

I skipped the third session as ’Share Customization Best Practices’ and ’Jive, Dropbox & Other integrations’ did not look that interesting and relevant for me at the moment. As there were no slides available for ”Surfing with CMIS”-session I made the mistake of thinking it would not be interesting and relevant – but only later when I saw the slides and realized what it was about, understood that I should have been there to see the session too.

Instead I used the time otherwise wisely networking at the Sponsor’s lounge and getting to know the conference sponsors as well as well as what products and services they do bring to the Alfresco ecosystem. During the breaks it was next to impossible to get a good chance to talk with people properly, but during a session it was much easier to have a proper discussion and even go to details.

Similarly I skipped a part of the fourth session – as I went through the list of presentations:

Introduction to advanced workflows I had already got the previous day, when we had the advanced training – and I was already about to read the Activiti in Action -book, so based on the slides there was nothing really new or significantly different than what I had already seen.

Share document extension points presentation looked interesting, but I made a mental note that it looked once again like a typical Share / Surf related presentation – where I should be able to look at the code at the same time and/or do something with it to actually get benefits from it. As Share customizations are not my every day scenario – just looking at something happening on screen is usually not enough to learn.

Structured publishing hasn’t been for a while in my radar – and I kinda thought that as there were no slides available that it wouldn’t be that interesting. I was wrong and now I am looking back to the topic via recorded webinar.

My first contact with Componize was some weeks ago as I was learning Orbeon forms and tried to understand related XML technologies. I tweeted about it and Tjarda Peelen commented on it in Twitter. I took a quick look at Componize – but decided quickly that it is not that relevant to me now. And this is where life gives you a kick in the ass, as I’ve now come across few companies where in some time solutions like Componize could be used to build customer value.

Teaches me something.

Last sessions for the day for me were:

I chose two Share-related sessions instead of workflow sessions ( migrating jBPM to Activiti, Advanced workflow deep dive ), and instead of Actions & Behaviors and Metadata extraction & content transformations.

Workflow sessions should have been really interesting for me, but I don’t have any migration projects in the pipeline so jBPM to Activity migration is not relevant now. Similarly the Advanced workflow deep dive looked like it dives into subjects covered partially also in Activiti in Action – so spending time looking at available APIs and extension points on screen now would not be beneficial.

Actions & Behaviors seemed to have nothing new and transformations and metadata extraction looked like something that was explained quite well in the slides, and therefore I could quite easily test those features and possibilities on my own at home.

Webscripts presentation was partly same old information, but also included some good tidbits of info about what is new ( at least to me ) and what will happen. It did not come as a shocking news that Alfresco is reforking Surf framework back to their own maintenance. Though Surf should feel familiar to developers – it is still a beast of it’s own kind and there really is no usage for it outside the Alfresco world. Would I even look at the Surf without the need to do some Share customizations? Not likely.

But am I too harsh on Surf framework? Most likely. It is actually pretty cool and nicely thought framework, though starting to use it feels initially weird and different compared to most of the other frameworks. It is a little harder to wrap your head around it than with tools you already know, but it is not rocket science. Somehow it just feels that any time I get back to doing something with Surf, I’m starting again from almost scratch and I have to spend some time before I remember that I have done something like this before. But perhaps it is just me, as I haven’t put enough real effort into actually wrapping my head around the Surf framework once and for all.

The session on new extension points in Share however was insanely cool and got me want to play again with Share – and not feel like it would be a drag. It is almost like people at Alfresco have listened to developers complain and actually done something about it! Who would have known. And if everything else fails to impress you, SurfBug alone is already a huge improvement and cool addition to Share development!

Afterparty

And what would a conference be without a party?

Afterparty was in an amazing venue called Vinopolis – which was something new to me. I had no idea that such cool venue would be located conveniently close to the London Bridge. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to kick back a bit and talk geeky stuff with people from the conference without being on a tight schedule to get to the next session.

During the after party I had the pleasure of meeting cool guys from Westernacher and talk about their extensions to Alfresco. That was extremely valuable as I had problems to fit their presentations into my schedule. Talking about things from developer to developer it was quite easy however to get the overview of what they were doing and appreciate their work.

After the party at Vinopolis quieted down, we went to a local pub to get pints of beer in an insanely crowded and noisy environment. Oh all those memories of London it brought back – and got me thinking whether I would like to work in London again someday.

It was fun to see Alfresco people winding down and enjoying of life. Even though Alfresco-community is a geek community, it is so cool to see that the community lacks the sucky alpha male attitude of some geek communities – where eventually events turn into pissing contests on who is most alpha and who does the _coolest_ stuff wins… never mind how stupid the _cool_ stuff is.

Bottom line: Was the first day any good?

I should say that during the conference I learned almost as much from presentations as I learned from just talking with people and sharing experiences.

DevCon is an amazing opportunity to talk directly with Alfresco engineers as well as other participants of the community. As this was my second DevCon – I already recognized people by name and by face, and vice versa. It is unfortunate that I don’t have these connections and vibrant community by my side at Finland, as coming to DevCon feels like recharging my brain with millions of new ideas and possibilities. It would be great to have the opportunity to share ideas and thoughts over beer – and hear what other guys are doing in other companies. But maybe that is something that we – guys doing Alfresco work in Finland – could do together?

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Yksi vastaus artikkeliin: Alfresco DevCon 2011: First day highlights

  1. Sylvain Halde sanoo:

    Great post Huima.

    We actually met at the conference and I would also enjoy a more vibrant community around me here in Montreal!

    I was really curious about Spring Surf and where this is going. The surf sessions motivated me to look into it once more and I found out that Kevin Roast’s Quick Start was helpful to get up and running quickly : http://blogs.alfresco.com/wp/kevinr/2010/11/01/springsurf-authenticating-users-against-an-alfresco-repository/

    The documentation about Surf Model objects (page, template, component) is still lacking though.

    I also enjoyed quite a lot John Newton’s presentation and was happy to hear that the focus would stay on Content Management and interoperability (especially with CMIS).

    It was great to talk with the Alfresco guys and the conference was pretty well organized. I hope I will be able to attend the next DevCon because the experience is definitively worth it.

    Sylvain Halde

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