CenterStage – EMC’s Next Generation Collaboration Application

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What I learned about CenterStage at EMC World 2009

CenterStage was all the rage this year at EMC World, and it looks like it’s eventually going to be Documentum’s primary knowledge worker UI. CenterStage replaces eRoom, and it provides a collaboration environment for teams. CenterStage works like this: You define a “space”, which is like a room in eRoom – it’s a collection of documents, discussion threads, wiki pages, blogs, etc. all related to a single project or a single team. You can invite users to become members of this space, and then they can organize all their information about that project together in one place. The concept of spaces or rooms is not new – SharePoint, Alfresco, and several others use this same paradigm.

CenterStage is pretty slick looking, and I think it will make a big splash in the Documentum community. The search function is a million times better than WebTop’s, and with the addition of Blogs, Wikis, and Discussions it’s much more suited to the way teams share information than WebTop. WebTop and other document management clients are constrained to documents only, and most teams that use WebTop end up sending a ton of emails to each other to share all the information that doesn’t fit nicely into a document. With CenterStage, a lot of the information that goes into emails could easily transition to CenterStage, being stored in Discussion Groups, on Wiki Pages, as Blog Entries, or (in an upcoming release) as Data Tables (kind of like an online spreadsheet). Not only do your end users benefit from improved collaboration and information sharing, but the organization gets all the traditional compliance benefits that Documentum offers, such as centrally managed retention policies, archiving, eDiscovery, etc.

One of the nice features of CenterStage is the ability to scope your searches. When you issue a search, you can tell CenterStage where to search:

  • Search within your current space
  • Search within all you favorite spaces
  • Search all the spaces you have access to
  • Search the entire Documentum repostiory (assuming you are using Documentum for standard document management as well)
  • Use EMC’s Federated Search Services to search other repositories, such as FileNet, Wikipedia, etc.

Earlier this week, I mistakenly reported that CenterStage was developed using the FLEX interface, but I was wrong. It’s actually a Rich Internet Application built using a JavaScript framework called Ext JS. There are a couple of components that utilize FLEX, but it’s not a FLEX application. Here’s how CenterStage works. When you load CenterStage for the first time, your browser loads up a ton of fancy JavaScript (the Ext framework). Then, whenever you click on a folder or a document, the browser uses JavaScript to make a call to a DFS Web Service. The result is returned as XML, and Ext then renders that XML as HTML. This is notably different from how WDK applications work. In WDK, a JSP page or Servlet makes a call to Documentum, renders the result as HTML, and then passes that HTML down to the browser. In Ext, there’s no JSP or Servlet acting as a middleman – the browser makes the call directly to the web service and then formats the result and writes it into the DOM.

CenterStage will require a new skill set to customize, and there will be fewer customization points than are available in WebTop. The next release of CenterStage has limited extension points, but these will open up over time. Right now, the main customizations are the ability to create new “widgets”, little UI controls that can be included on Wiki Pages within CenterStage. These widgets are developed in JavaScript or Flex and make WebService calls to back-end services.

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