Alfresco is set to shake up the business process management market with the development of an open source BPM technology. The content management company is the lead partner in a team that is developing the Activiti project, based on the emerging BPMN 2.0 standard from the Object Management Group (OMG)
In a new departure, the company is launching Activiti under an Apache licence rather than the LGPL licence that it currently uses for its Enterprise edition - that in itself was changed earlier this year from the GPL licence. The move to Apache is something that the company has been talking about experimenting with for some time, but had been hidebound by the inclusion of Hibernate for database access and JBPM for workflow. To aid the development, Alfresco has enticed away Tom Baeyens, founder architect of the JBoss JBPM project to lead the workflow development. "Workflow wasn't our core competency," said Alfresco's chief technology officer, John Newton, "that was Tom's expertise."
Included in the first alpha release of Activiti are a range of features including the Activiti Engine: a system administration console to control and operate the Activiti Engine; Explorer, to manage task lists and Modeler, a browser-based modelling too.
According to Newton, the emergence of BPMN as a standard for modelling and execution has been the impetus that open source BPM has been waiting for. "BPMN has got some big companies behind it - the likes of Microsoft, Oracle and Tibco. We've been waiting for something like this because BPEL proved to be impractical for pure play BPM, while XPDL, which was another possibility, missed the boat.
Newton said that Activiti, which would be released before the end of the year, was supported by several other vendors, notably VMware subsidiary SpringSource and German company Camunda, that has been helping with some of the tools for monitoring the system.
He said that there were three big drivers for the product. "Firstly, the liberal licence, you don't have to pay anyone a dime; secondly the support for the new BPMN standard - it means that business processes will be future proof, and finally, the fact that architecturally, it's not a big application."
He said that product will only be available in a free, open source version. "Our interest is in related markets. If you want a repository to store those processes, you can buy that support for us, or we sell the content management associated with the product."