Oracle to unwrap 9i portal enhancements

Next week at its AppsWorld show in San Diego, Oracle Corp. plans to announce the availability of new portal features in its Oracle 9i Application Server designed to simplify portlet creation for business users.

Portlets are a programming model used to deliver pieces of content or applications into an enterprise portal framework.

The new enhancements, dubbed OmniPortlet and Web Clipping, aim to shift portal development away from enterprise IT departments to non-technical business users, according to John Magee, vice-president of marketing for Oracle9i Application Server. The end result is increased user productivity and lowered development costs, he said.

“What we are delivering changes the way portlets are built. Up until now, [to create a portlet] you usually call in programmers to build an application that accesses a database or content,” he said.

“OmniPortlet lets end-users directly access different sources of information including Web services, databases, [and] spreadsheets, and publish the information behind those sources directly to portal itself,” Magee said.

The OmniPortlet function is Web services-aware smart-client technology that lets users point directly at a Web services data source, according to Magee.

“The key is you are not jumping out to a different tool, not calling the programmers, you are just in the browser as a business end-user accessing different data sources directly and publishing,” he said.

Oracle also added a Web Clipping feature, designed to allow users to easily grab content and functionality from internal Web sites and present them as portlets. Specifically, Web Clipping addresses challenges associated with integrating content fragments from disparate sources such as a portion of a Web page, graphics, or reports, according to Oracle officials in Redwood Shores, Calif.

Refining and simplifying portlet creation capabilities is currently a common development theme among portal vendors, particularly the large infrastructure players such as IBM, BEA, Oracle, and Sybase, according to Nate Root, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass.

For example, IBM has introduced wizards into its WebSphere portlet development engine that are geared toward allowing users with less technical skill to build portlets, while Sybase acquired end-user-focused portlet-building technology from OnePage.

“In general, all the portal vendors are flirting with this idea of letting business users develop some of the portlets,” Root said.

Although business-user-focused portlet development has emerged as a new ground of competition among the infrastructure players, enterprises do not yet see huge benefits from the capability, according to Root.

“In the real world, I see customers still doing portlet development as very much a function of IT. IT does not want typical business users making their own portlets, even if it is through the simplest wizard in the world. There are simply much better ways for business users to spend their time,” he said.

The new OmniPortlet and Web Clipping features are included in the Oracle9i Application Server Portal Developer Kit, available now for free download. The features also will ship as part of Oracle9i Application Server Release 2, Version 9.0.4, which is due in the first half of this year.

Also targeting simplified portlet development, Sun Microsystems and Internet application provider Altio next week plan to announce a bundling agreement that will deliver Altio’s XML and Java-based development environment on the Sun ONE Portal Server.

The AltioLive Portlet Edition provides visual tools for speeding the construction of portlets. Combining AltioLive and Sun ONE Portal will let users combine data or services from different systems into coordinated processes, while shielding the users from back-end complexity, according to Altio officials in Boston.