The Promise Of Free Portlets

The Portlet Open-Source Trading site could lower the cost of portal development. Now if just more application software vendors would participate.

Several technology vendors last week set up a Web site that will let companies trade free code for developing online portals. If it draws enough interest, the exchange should help lower the costs of portal development.

The Portlet Open-Source Trading site, or Post, will provide software companies and IT departments with a place to post port- lets--or pieces of application functionality displayed on portals--that have been written to two new portal standards called JSR 168 and Web Services for Remote Portlets.

The site was created by portal vendor Plumtree Software Inc. and includes portlets supplied by Plumtree competitors BEA Systems Inc. and Sun Microsystems. But for the site to provide widespread value to the IT community and its customers, it'll need the participation of application vendors who follow the standards and are willing to post code at the site. So far, content-management vendor Documentum Inc. is the only app vendor that's committed to providing standard portlets on the site for its suite of tools, yet many others have expressed interest.

The purpose of the new portal standards is to eliminate the cumbersome way portal software is developed. To date, vendors wanting to let customers display their software on portals have written separate portlets for each portal vendor's platform. The idea of the Post Web site, at portlet-opensrc.source, is to build a community of support around the new standards. The hope is that vendors will write software to them that can then work on all compliant portal frameworks. Ultimately, that could lower costs for customers by limiting vendor development work and reducing the number of portlets customers need to purchase.

It's unclear how much incentive large app vendors have to participate. Delphi Group analyst Nathaniel Palmer says the site is more likely to attract smaller vendors looking to build a customer base.

If early participants see success, others may follow. Forrester Research analyst Laura Ramos says, "The big winner in this announcement is Documentum because it stands to have its applications used by these [portal] vendors."