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Open-Source Portlet Site Opens For Business

Capitalizing on the promise of new standards in portlet development, four companies that are part of a specifications process are hosting a new forum at popular open-source Web site SourceForge.

The site section aims to bring fresh hope to application developers who have struggled for years to customize their software in order to fit within the guidelines established by enterprise portal makers.

The four companies -- Sun Microsystems , Documentum , Plumtree and BEA Systems -- have already included a small library of portlets incorporating the Java Specification Request (JSR)-168 and Web Service Remote Portlets standards from the Java Community Process (JCP) and OASIS, respectively.

Officials at the four companies hope the recent standardization of portlet development, JSR-168 for Java and OASIS for .NET, opens up a new wave of interoperability for developers who have been waiting years for the chance to minimize the time spent adapting their portlets for the many portal vendors in the marketplace.

They will also maintain a presence within the site, offering feedback, suggestions and best-practices advice for independent developers looking to hook up application to portal. Members will be able to check to see if there are any new portlets available, post requests for new portlets, upload and download portlets, request advice and submit portlet enhancements.

Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk, said the standardization of portlets in the development community has been more of a dream than reality.

"There's been a significant demand in the community for a way to have some interoperability between portlets, or for a particular function to be created once and deployable across a number of different portals," he said. "As much as people touted standards like J2EE, a lot of portlets were very customized to a particular vendor's portal products."

In the short term, the four companies will invite their customers to use the site for future portlet development, which in turn will hopefully spark a "gold rush" among other developers to do the same.

Nils Gilman, BEA director of product marketing, said part of the developer culture is to share code and best practices (whether the employer wants the same thing is another matter), and show their peers.

"Certainly when they develop something cool they want to share it, but the only way you can see it is if you go on site to see it," he said. "This is going to encourage and drive developers to share cool stuff."

The four site sponsors each have a stake in the success of the community they are building. Portal maker Plumtree has been very successful competing against end-to-end giants like IBM and SAP , but is only as successful as the applications that can run on the portal. Documentum, which specializes in unstructured data, needs a front-end portal to visualize that data. BEA and Sun both make portals of their own, and will profit from the applications that can tie into their product line.

Sun, which has run into some trouble with implementing its portal product, has been pushing portlet standardization for several months. In July, the company released a beta version of its Sun ONE Portal Server, which included JSR-168 and WSRP APIs .

Part of the success for the site depends on whether other companies will try to follow in the footsteps and create their own community site, though Gilman sees that as unlikely.

"It's possible that other companies would try to create competing sites, but I don't think they have much interest in that," Gilman said.

The consortium's primary interest, though they'd never say so, is to create a community that will work to compete against IBM, though that company could certainly join the SourceForge community if it wanted.

"IBM has done a lot of work with its portal in recent months and I think that it gives them a chance to band together and offer developers a chance to make portlets that interoperate on all three platforms," said O'Grady. "They're attempting, I think, to make their own offerings that much more attractive.

"Does this mean that they are trying a stick it to IBM move? I think not," he continued. "Because IBM, by adhering to the standards, can use many of the same developments, but it really is in all those player's best interests to try to increase their own community and network value by offering a platform that has tons and tons of different portlets."