Corporate intranets present a unique set of challenges for web applications. Intranets have to balance a number of utilitarian demands -- single sign on, search, easy content management and flexible integration -- with increasing demands to provide the kind of user experience offered by social networks, and rich media portals.

An intranet is no use if it's uninspiring or difficult to use. This is where Drupal and Alfresco -- working together -- come in handy.

In a recent webinar and slideshow, Jeff Potts and Chris Fuller of the consulting firm Optaros presented their ideal solution for the intranet dilemma, and an open source one at that: Drupal plus Alfresco.

Drupal + Alfresco = Flexibility

Drupal plus Alfresco delivers flexibility in terms of cost, user interface, and thanks to both platform's support for the steadily progressing Content Management Interoperability Specification (CMIS), interoperability as well.

The duo presented a recent implementation by Optaros of a hybrid Drupal-Alfresco intranet for Activision, the gaming company. The project used Drupal for the presentation layer, allowing the developers to leverage the 4000+ existing modules.

A PHP solution on the front end has the advantage of quick development, while the robust Alfesco repository handles file protocols, and things like the workflow engine. Updating content can be handled in a number of ways, through an API or webDAV, for instance.

Source: Jeff Potts and Chris Fuller

Drupal has out-of-the-box functionality for commenting, polls, forums, calendars, events, wikis and general web presentation. The rich user profiles made common by social networking sites translate particularly well to corporate intranets. Members of a globally distributed organization can match skill sets, or create virtual on-line teams with members in different time zones collaborating, literally, around the clock.

CMIS compliance opens up the possibility of mixing and matching front and back ends. Multiple micro sites, making up a front end could, without undue configuration, communicate with a centralized content repository, or even multiple repos containing legacy systems. All the possibilities provided by this type of interoperability are the fruits of Alfresco and Drupal's early adoption of the CMIS specification. Alfresco's Drupal Integration Module appeared in December, 2008.

[See our latest update on CMIS: Content Management Interoperability Spec (CMIS) Ready for Public Review.]

Not the Only Open Source CMIS Game in Town

Drupal however is not the only game in town for open source CMIS interoperability. More and more platforms cooking up modules or extensions as CMIS head towards standard-dom. Open source vendor eZ Publish unveiled an CMIS extension, developed by NXC, as well as a CMIS compatible server for its 4.2 release. NXC demoed these various integrations at the Open World Forum in the beginning of October.

Other document management  and enterprise content management vendors have similarly joined the game. Open source vendors Nuxeo and Knowledge Tree both come to mind. And Microsoft have demonstrated some SharePoint efforts as well (see How To: Connecting SharePoint (MOSS) to a CMIS Repository).

CMIS : An Opportunity for Open Source?

As adoption of the CMIS specification becomes more and more widespread, we should see an increase in mix and match solutions. This seems to bode well for open source technology. Organizations will be free to pick and choose from community features and enterprise-grade document management, or whatever else they may need, without worrying about licensing fees at every step of the way.

The utopian vision of a holistic content management solution may be arriving after all -- just not in the single-vendor packaging, as once predicted by great vendors and analysts alike.