Book Review – Learning Alfresco Web Scripts

Learning Alfresco Web Scripts

This is a review of the book – Learning Alfresco Web Scripts, written by Ramesh Chauhan and published by PACKT. I did not receive any compensation for writing this review. I did receive an electronic copy for reviewing.


Alfresco web scripts are used to integrate clients with Alfresco via RESTful web services. They are an alternative to CMIS and SOAP and provide tighter integration and extra features.

I found the book easy to follow and an easy read in general. It is suggested for new alfresco developers and offers depth for experienced developers. Some chapters could be used as a reference as well.

The book is structured as follows. It starts with an overview of Alfresco web scripts. Then it gets hands-on right away with a simple web script. It gradually adds detail to the implementation before diving into the details of the architecture and implementation. Then it moves to more practical concerns such as deployment, troubleshooting, and configuration management using Maven. It ends with guidance on extending the framework.

In technical books, I always look for tips and information that comes from experience. Reference material alone doesn’t cut it as much of it may be available online, and the printed material becomes outdated quickly. This book does have tips on when and where to use specific choices, best practice recommendations for various options, and troubleshooting tips for various errors. It also has provides some general tips such as dealing with client limitations.

The approach to the technical material is in a form somewhat similar to a tutorial. It shows code samples, discusses the related concepts, and provides steps for trying it out.

I did notice some naive statements though the intent of the author is obvious in such situations. I could only smile at the statements to the effect that “every question has an answer” and “production servers cannot be restarted”.

On a more serious note, it would have been nice to use a single scenario throughout the book to tie all the examples together into one solution at the end. This was a feedback that I got on my first book, and it made a huge improvement in its second edition.

Overall, I feel that this book a good resource for anyone integrating systems with Alfresco as a back-end system.

Book Review: SugarCRM Developer’s Manual

SugarCRM Developer's Manual

This is a review of the book – SuagrCRM Developer’s Manual by Dr. Mark Alexander Bain. Click on the cover image to see the publisher’s page for the book. The book is published by PACKT Publishing – an active supporter of open-source projects.

Disclaimers / Disclosures

  1. This review represents my independent opinion.
  2. I have not been paid for this review.
  3. The publisher has provided me with a free copy of the book for writing this review.

Approach

This review does not attempt to provide information about SugarCRM outside the context of the book. The review focuses on what the book offers, what it does well, and where it could have done better. Content outline and information about the author is present on the publisher’s page for the book.

Review

Before I start the review, I must admit that I have not worked much with SugarCRM but I do have significant development experience. As such, I might call myself a “beginner-level developer” as far as SugarCRM customization is concerned. Therefore, my review should probably be qualified for beginner-level SugarCRM developer rather than an experienced one. I make this qualification because I have seen some other reviews which are harsh on this book with regard to certain development aspects that seem to be inadequately covered.

As a first-time SugarCRM developer, my feeling after reading the book was that customizing SugarCRM is easy. It is in large part due to the excellent work by the author . The author’s style and the organization of content made it a breeze to go through most of the book. Before I could put the book away thinking that the book addressed only simple scenarios I ran into the last four chapters of the book. These chapters alone could make the book a worthy buy.

This book is a blend of gentle introduction, reference material, and real-world advice. I am always looking for real-world experience and recommendations in a book since the introduction and reference material are often available from other sources. Some of the advice in the book goes beyond SugarCRM and applies to PHP-mySQL applications in general.

Good introductions can also be valuable and this book is certainly a good choice if you are looking for one. The book also devotes 60 pages to database dictionary, which I mostly skipped. For such information, I like to directly query a database instance but I can see how these pages can provide a useful reference while reading the book.

The book has plenty of code samples and screenshots, which make it easy to follow. It is also helpful that the book uses a single business scenario and builds upon it throughout the book. It helps to see natural progression from simple to complex in some cases and interrelationships in others.

The book uses version 4.5 and the latest one is 5.2. The next version after 4.5.1 was 5.0, which became available in early 2008. A quick look at the release notes for 5.0 did not seem to indicate huge differences between 4.5 and 5.0. However, another reviewer has indicated that there are several important differences between 4.5 and 5.x. So you may need to do your homework to figure out whether this book can serve your needs.

The book starts with some quick and easy customizations of look and feel as a warm-up. Then it shows how to add custom tabs, dashlets, and custom fields. Next it describes the architecture of the application followed by the details of the database structure. I love the material that comes after this point. Some good advice about development, testing, and upgrades. The knowledge shared here is sometimes applicable to other PHP-mySQL applications as well. This is followed by the advanced topics of writing custom modules and workflows. The book concludes with tips on tuning SugarCRM and writing reports. I feel that it is the last 4 chapters that will add the most value in any real-world customization of SugarCRM.

Conclusion

This is an excellent handbook for beginner-level developers customizing SugarCRM version 4.5. For other situations, it may or may not be what you need so you need to do some analysis before selecting this book. Also note that this is not a book about making the best use of SugarCRM. That is not a shortcoming of the book because the book clearly identifies its audience and purpose – customization for developers. If you are looking for a book about using SugarCRM then maybe you should look at Implementing SugarCRM.

Book Review: Alfresco Developer Guide

Alfresco Developer Guide

This is a review of the book – Alfresco Developer Guide by Jeff Potts. Click on the cover image to see the publisher page for the book. The book is published by PACKT Publishing – an active supporter of open-source projects.

Disclaimers / Disclosures

  1. This review represents my independent opinion.
  2. I have not been paid for this review.
  3. The publisher has provided me with a free copy of the book for writing this review.

Approach

This review does not attempt to provide information about the Alfresco platform outside the context of the book. The review focuses on what the book offers, what it does well, and where it could have done better. Content outline and information about the author is present on the publisher’s page for the book.

Review

While Alfresco by Munwar Shariff got you started with Alfresco, Alfresco Developer Guide by Jeff Potts gets you going. The first book provides good overview of the breadth of features and Alfresco Developer Guide dives deep into customization for Alfresco-based solutions. Content management is a general requirement but its applications vary significantly. Without accommodating the specific needs of the business, a content management system (CMS) would usually be little more than a glorified file system.

As I started reading the book, it quickly became evident that the author had significant hands-on experience with customizing Alfresco. The book has detailed examples with code and screenshots. The step-by-step directions with practical advice and recommendations make it easy to follow. The book uses Alfresco 2.2 Enterprise and 3.0 Labs versions. In one sentence, I would characterize this book as an illustrated handbook for customizing Alfresco.

The book starts with a description of the Alfresco Platform. This includes overview of content management, the architecture of Alfresco-based solutions, the example used throughout the book, and various kinds of customizations that can be done with Alfresco. It is followed by directions for setting up an Alfresco development environment using Eclipse. Detailed discussion of customization starts with creating custom models – which includes types, associations, and aspects. The UI changes and programmatic access to go with custom content model are also discussed. Automated processing of content with actions, behaviors, transformers, and extractors is discussed next. Web client customization discusses how to adapt the UI for specific needs. The book also discusses implementation of RESTful API using Web Scripts. Workflows are an important feature of content management systems. The book discusses implementation of advanced workflows using jBPM. jBPM enables you to implement complex workflows within Alfresco platform. Web Content management is a popular and common application of content management systems. The book discusses web content management on Alfresco using Alfresco WCM. The book concludes with a discussion on security, including incorporating Alfresco in a Single-Sign-On solution. The appendix includes API reference and examples.

Given my experience with EMC Documentum, I couldn’t help but compare the details with how I do things with Documentum. This book provided the depth to make such a comparison possible. One would normally use this book as a reference to jump to the task at hand and follow a step-by-step example. If you need to understand the breadth, you can skip over example details and read it in a flow. However, in my opinion, the best value provided by this book is in terms of best practices and practical advice which is hard to find in product documentation.

The author does not skimp on sharing practical advice. A fundamental advice is around separation of solution files from Alfresco files. The author also discusses various options for packaging and deployment of customizations. The troubleshooting tools and practices discussed would benefit any Alfresco developer. Modeling best practices are also very important since the custom content model is usually the foundation of a custom solution on Alfresco. When creating a solution for a large organization, advice about handling large directories for user/group synchronization would be handy. Other tips such as dealing with cross-domain scripting limitation and implementing Single-Sign-On also add value.

I think that it is a great book for people who are already working with Alfresco or another content management system. Readers new to the content management space may need a gentler introduction to the concepts and to Alfresco before they can derive maximum value out of this book.

Conclusion

Even if you had the expertise to write this book, you might want to keep a copy handy if you frequently implement solutions using Alfresco. If you are new to Alfresco this book is even more valuable. If you are new to content management in general then you may want to ramp up with some other resources before making the best use of this book.