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Web Service Portlets A Go-Go

SAN FRANCISCO -- Seven software vendors demonstrated a new standard Wednesday that will let business users quickly mix and match Web services in corporate portals.

The recently approved OASIS Standard, Web Services for Remote Portlets (WSRP), lets vendors and enterprises build portlets, small pieces of content or applications that operate across different providers' portal platforms. The demo, at this week's Delphi Group Enterprise On-Demand Summit in San Francisco, showed an audience of around 60 CIOs and technical architects how the same portlet can be dropped into different enterprise portals, blending in with the interface look and feel.

Members of the OASIS WSRP Technical Committee demonstrated WSRP-compliant portlets running on five different platforms including .Net worked within portals hosted on portal servers from BEA Software , IBM , Oracle , and Plumtree Software . OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) is a not-for-profit, global consortium that drives the development, convergence, and adoption of e-business standards.

Without WSRP, the group says integration of each portlet with each platform would have to be hand-coded. With WSRP portlets, even non-technical users can build portals exposing applications from diverse vendors or content sources by browsing through libraries of resources, then simply dropping the URL of the desired portlet into the portal application.

The consortium said plug-and-play portlets can then be reused within the enterprise or among partners. Software vendors that create portlets to connect their applications to portal platforms will be able to build a single portlet, rather than a different one for each vendor's platform.

"Within this year, you'll see major application vendors start to adopt [WSRP]," Delphi Group chief analyst Nathaniel Palmer told internetnews.com. Adoption is easy, because it doesn't require rewriting the applications themselves, he said, but merely the presentation environment.

The widespread use of WSRP will free businesses from a lot of internal development and duplication of work.

"The problem in a lot of companies is that no one has standardized on one portal platform," said GlueCode vice president of marketing Alice Chou. Los Angeles-based GlueCode makes open-source portal software. "Each department may have its own portal, so they have to recreate views for every single one."

For example, Chou told internetnews.com the HR, accounting and lines of business may all need to access the same information about productivity, but each must build its own link into the enterprise system where that information resides. "Having a standard by which you interact enables you to leverage the development efforts already undertaken," he said.

"Companies won't rip out the portal platforms they've installed," Chou said, "so they need to find a way to make them talk to each other. For companies that are making a living off proprietary systems, it's a bit of a double-edged sword."

With plenty of plug-and-play portlets to choose from, there won't be as much pressure on customers to upgrade or switch. But Chou said vendors now would be able to promise customers that what they're buying won't become obsolete.

In the long term, the widespread use of portlets will require a profound shift in the way vendors do business, Delphi's Palmer said.

"Organizations don't want to buy a while software package, they just want to use a little piece." And WSRP allows them to easily put together the little pieces from disparate vendors that best suit their needs. "But application vendors haven't figured out how to just sell that piece," Palmer said. What they need to realize, Palmer said, is that the sum of the individual parts should be more valuable -- and have a higher software license fee -- than that all-in-one package.



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