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IBM Refreshes WebSphere Portal Software

IBM Monday said it has refreshed its software for using applications from different vendors that enable coworkers to collaborate on projects through one Web-based portal.

The market for portal software is lucrative, often estimated by research companies such as Gartner to be worth between $3 to $5 billion over the next few years. Analysts have come to increasingly view portals as parts of larger, more broad collaboration suites.

Accordingly, the push for portal software that provides such a high level of integration is at an all-time high, and vendors such as IBM, Oracle and Microsoft have been busy revving up their portal wares to new features to lure businesses hungry for such capabilities.

There are some integration challenges to those endeavors. Because information that resides within financial reports and supply chain management applications is often in different formats and routed across numerous platforms, it is difficult for employees, partners, customers and vendors to access content quickly. This bogs down efforts to collaborate because workers need to manually integrate, route and manage data.

That's why Armonk, N.Y.'s Big Blue has reworked its WebSphere Portal Version 5 software, adding more portal application functionality to help users to feed information from one application to another.

For example, a company with HR application that resides within their portal can now share information with other applications such as finance and expense tools more easily. With previous versions of WebSphere Portal, the application owner would have had to build connections or adapters between the different applications to make sure relevant info was called up.

WebSphere Portal will feature out-of the-box portal document management functions to let businesses share and manage financial reports, product spec sheets or sales documents. With these features, businesses will be able to monitor and control a document's evolution, as well as determine who is allowed to read a document situated in the portal.

WebSphere Portal will support Web services that let portlets, or small windows within a portal page, work across multiple platforms. This will help developers to more easily stitch portals and portal applications together into WebSphere Portal.

IBM said WebSphere Portal will also provide improved programming interfaces and a simpler installation process that will let customers spend less time setting up their portal. The new suite will also provide more search capabilities that allow companies to navigate IBM DB2 Content Manager and Universal Database, Oracle, IBM Lotus Domino, popular Web search engines and text or HTML documents.

Forrester Research analyst Laura Ramos called the easier installation process a big improvement over previous versions.

"By making the installation process more modular, test scenarios can be set up quickly and then migrated to production using the same installation scripts and menu choices," Ramos told internetnews.com. "The need to back out large portions of the installation to make a change -- like to another database -- is eliminated."

IBM will also continue to bind WebSphere Portal software to the company's Lotus collaboration suite as part of the Lotus Workplace plan to provide customers with applications that support complex individual jobs through Lotus Workplaces.

Going forward, Ramos said: "Longer term, the 5.0 version of the portal provides the foundation for IBM's Lotus Workplace offerings that deliver portals for specific vertical markets or horizontal business processes (like collaboration or messaging), all part of their On Demand computing initiatives. More and more, the portal will become infrastructure technology on par with search, content management, team workspaces, discussion threads, chat and less like an 'application'."

Earlier this month, Oracle rolled out its Collaboration Suite Release 2, boasting real-time Web conferencing capabilities and other enhancements. Microsoft updated its SharePoint Portal Server, a company-wide system that allows users to organize information about their projects, documents and personnel into an Intranet-based portal, in April.

WebSphere Portal Version 5 is slated to roll out August 21.