Alfresco has upgraded its namesake product to work with multiple clients and to interact with a wider range of form factors in anticipation of offering its open source content management software as a service, the company announced this morning.

"Alfresco Enterprise 4.0 is the foundational element in our cloud strategy," said Todd Barr, Alfresco chief marketing officer. The company is preparing to offer the CMS (content management software) as SaaS (software as a service) by April or May this year.

Alfresco 4.0, released today, features a number of new and upgraded features that will make it more cloud-friendly, including allowing access from mobile devices, a more flexible browser interface and various back-end performance improvements, Barr said.

The software now can be accessed by iPhone and iPad clients. Users can start a process and annotate, edit and save documents that reside in an Alfresco repository. Organisations can also build connectors to other mobile clients.

Social networking and DropBox integration

The user interface has been augmented with some modern Web 2.0 touches as well. As on Facebook, users can now click a button that indicates they approve of, or like, a particular piece of content. And as on Twitter, they can follow other users. Users can now directly publish content out to social networking sites such as YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr and Facebook. The company also plans to add integration with the DropBox storage service later this year.

The interface, which is accessed by a browser, now allows files to be moved by dragging them with a mouse and dropping them into the desired locations. The interface can show a preview of more file types.

On the back end, Alfresco 4.0 has been reengineered in a number of ways that should make it work well in a multi-tenant environment. Administrators can now break out the Alfresco Share collaboration application and Alfresco Index Server and run them on separate servers, which can increase the speed of large deployments. Or, administrators can set up multiple instances of Alfresco and run them side by side.

CMS in the cloud

The company has also refactored some of the code, resulting in what it claims are performance improvements. Content can be uploaded three times as quickly. Dashboard queries are accelerated by a factor of 10, and document libraries are loaded 25 to 50 percent more quickly, the company claims.

This version of the software will set the stage for running Alfresco's cloud CMS service, Barr said. Alfresco currently is running a private beta of its hosted offering and plans to offer the service commercially within the next few months.

The primary users of the cloud service might be organisations that already run Alfresco in-house but need to make some material available outside the firewall for collaboration and for employees working outside the office, Barr said. The company will launch a synchronisation service for organisations to move their content between their in-house deployments and the hosted offering.

Introduced in 2005, Alfresco is an open source CMS. Alfresco Enterprise is the commercial version of the freely downloadable Alfresco Community. Alfresco Community 4.0 was released last October. The enterprise edition has all the functionality of the community edition, with a number of additional management tools as well, Barr explained.

Alfresco 4.0 is priced starting at about US$20,000 and goes up based on the number of processors used.