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Put to the Test: Sun Portal 7.0

New collaborative functionality and open-source licensing bolster Java System Portal Server 7.0.

• Easy to create workgroup collaboration areas with novel wiki support.
• Reasonably clean Java architecture with good support for standards.
• Proven integrations with multiple content management products.
• Comparatively limited adoption, and doesn't enjoy as broad a customer community as competing products.
• Lacks BI and reporting tools.
• Java Studio Creator IDE lacks Eclipse integration.

When Sun released version 7.0 of its Java System Portal Server last December, the company put the spotlight on the product's expansive embrace of "Web 2.0," calling it "the first platform to integrate wikis and other next-generation platforms." With its emphasis on collaboration, the product clearly takes aim at would-be SharePoint adopters, albeit with a Java twist. What's more, Sun announced in May that it would move from closed-source, no-cost licensing to a less-restrictive approach by making its entire services-oriented architecture platform--the portal, Java Studio Creator IDE, BPEL Engine, Java Message System and other elements of the stack--open source.

Even though Sun will be giving the portal away for free, the package has seen limited adoption in a crowded portal market. Many Sun customers have opted for commercial portals, such as those from BEA Systems or IBM, or for popular open-source portals, such as JBoss or Liferay.

Sun's framework focus makes it suitable for organizations with content management, collaboration or workflow requirements. With the right infrastructure, it can scale to fit the needs of high-traffic, public-facing portals, but it's a bit less usable out of the box compared to other products, such as BEA AquaLogic Interaction Server, Microsoft SharePoint Portal, Oracle Portal and Vignette Portal.

Easy Collaboration

A major theme in Sun Portal 7.0 is better support for collaboration through the concept of "communities"--essentially portlets that run a JSP-based wiki. Each community can roll out its own set of services, including individual and group calendars, tasks, wikis, surveys, polls, workgroup searches and discussion boards. In short, Sun is taking a direct run at SharePoint, with the crucial difference that the portal runs on Java.

In a nod to business users, Sun has developed a reasonably friendly wiki editor that uses HTML rich-text editing as well as wiki tags. This makes it easier for the nontechnical user to work with content in the wiki. Another nice detail is that you can have portlets inside the wiki, which enables integration with useful functionality (such as automatically finding related postings) or external content. You must have JavaScript enabled to get the WYSIWYG features of the HTML editor, which could be a problem for users with older browsers and organizations that choose to deactivate JavaScript--they must learn basic HTML to get along.

You can create as many formal communities as needed, organized by business function and maintained by an administrator. In contrast to the rigidity of many other portal products, Sun Portal communities also can be organized informally around a particular interest and then maintained by users. All communities are indexed by Sun's integrated search engine.

To support live collaboration, Sun has partnered with Elluminate, which provides a separately licensed, Java-based tool for online meetings, much like Webex. For instant messaging you can use Sun's IM product over a provided portlet. Because it's based on the Trillian client, the IM service also supports AOL, Yahoo, MSN, ICQ and IRC instant messaging. For better security and performance, it should be installed on a separate server.

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