Sun portal server to support new Java spec

Sun Microsystems Inc. announced plans for a new version of its portal server software on Thursday, adding support for a proposed Java specification that could make life easier for businesses building portals by reducing the time and effort involved.

The specification, which is also backed by IBM Corp., BEA Systems Inc. and other portal vendors, has completed a peer review at the Java Community Process, which oversees the development of new Java standards, and was due to be released for public comment Thursday at the JCP Web site at It is expected to be finalized by early September, Sun officials said.

Sun will support the specification in a beta version of its Sun ONE Portal Server 6.2 that will be released early next week to a dozen or more of its larger customers. Sun hopes to ship the final version of its product in mid to late September, said Adam Abramski, a Sun product line manager. IBM is jointly leading the development of spec with Sun and also plans to support it in its portal products, an IBM spokesman said.

Portals are basically Web sites that aggregate information for end users, including content such as weather reports or news feeds, and applications such as e-mail or sales automation tools. The various elements are displayed on the page in the form of “portlets,” or windows of information that can be personalized for employees and customers.

One problem with portal development is that, currently, portlets designed for one portal server can’t easily be deployed on a server from another vendor. That means businesses risk becoming dependent on one portal vendor, or have to recode portlets for use across other platforms, costing time and money.

One of the main goals of the specification, Java Specification Request (JSR) 168, is to define a standard API (application programming interface) that will allow developers to write a portlet once and deploy it from any compliant server with little or no recoding. JSR 168 is “probably the primary standard in the portal space related to Java and interoperability,” said David Yockelson, a Meta Group Inc. analyst.

“If I make a decision on a portal vendor and they are 168-compliant, that tells me I don’t have to rely on that vendor’s potentially proprietary development methods to build my portlets. So if I bought another portal server later on, or if I have a second portal – some businesses have one for B2B and one for B2C – it’s possible I can get some re-use (from my portlets) or at least leverage the development capabilities I have across those environments,” he said.

Portals are “certainly here for the long-term,” according to Yockelson. Some early efforts failed because they didn’t draw users back by providing relevant information or being part of a business process, factors that can be important for success, he said. But portal software prices have been falling, from as high as US$70 per seat 18 months ago to less than US$10 today for a large deployment, he said, which should help drive adoption.

Besides Sun and IBM, JSR 168 is backed by BEA, Oracle Corp., Sybase Inc., SAP AG and several other vendors, most of whom are expected to support the standard in upcoming portal products.

The specification will also comply with WSRP (Web Services for Remote Portals), another standard being hammered out by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), said Alejandro Abdelnur, the Sun engineer co-leading the JSR 168 spec.

“WSRP is about a Web services standard that will allow a Web portal to consume, display and interact with portlets that are running somewhere else, so you don’t have to deploy the portlet into the portal server itself…it defines a common WSDL (Web services definition language) contract and the semantics behind each operation,” he said.

Along with its Sun ONE Portal Server, Sun will support JSR 168 in Portlet Builder 2.0, a plug-in to Sun ONE Developer Studio. The plug-in will be available next week to all registered Sun developers, allowing them to start developing and testing portlets compliant with JSR 168. They will also have access to source code for sample portlets that use JSR 168, and a white paper on the topic, Sun said.