At the JavaOne conference next week, Sun Microsystems and IBM will announce a joint plan to define a new Java specification intended to make life easier for developers building portals, an official with Sun's iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions division said Tuesday.
Portals are basically glorified Web pages that aggregate information from a variety of sources and assemble it on the fly for customers, partners and employees. Ideally, information from disparate databases and applications is compiled into predesigned "portlets" which are assembled into portals depending on a user's needs.
Portal vendors use a variety of interfaces for assembling and presenting data. The proposed Java Portal API, which was submitted to the Java Community Process (JCP) last month, includes a standard set of APIs (application programming interfaces) that will make it easier to integrate data from different sources and allow for interoperability among different vendor products, said Adam Abramski, an iPlanet product marketing manager.
In particular, the specification will define standards for how content is aggregated and laid out on a page, as well as how a portal handles internationalization, personalization and security. Sun and IBM hope the JCP will approve the specification by the end of the year and that it will start to appear in products during the first half of 2003.
If approved, one impact should be to make it easier for customers to combine products from vendors who choose to adopt the standard, Abramski said. For example, developers should be able to take a JSP (Java Server Pages) file created in IBM's WebSphere application server and make it available through a portal server from, say, BEA Systems Inc.
Aside from the usual vendor crowd, the specification is being backed by The Boeing Co. and DaimlerChrysler. Those companies aren't on the JCP technical committee, but their support shows that interest in portals among large corporations is real, according to Abramski.
Other backers include BEA, Oracle Corp., Borland Software Corp., SAP AG and Art Technology Group Inc. More information about the proposal, known as Java Specification Request 168, is at the JCP homepage, at http://www.jcp.org/.
Apparently by coincidence, IBM and Sun had each submitted their own proposal for a portal standard earlier in the year. The JCP informed them of their parallel efforts, which they withdrew and replaced with a joint submission, according to an iPlanet spokeswoman. IBM wasn't available right away to comment.
The effort is intended to complement a separate project underway at Oasis, an international standards group, which is developing an XML (Extensible Markup Language) standard for accessing Web services applications through portal sites.
Separately next week, iPlanet will announce it has added support for the J2EE Connector Architecture (JCA) in its Portal Server, which it said should make it easier to extract data from back-end systems. Using JCA connectors from the likes of SAP, Siebel and PeopleSoft, developers will have a standard way to link from a portal back to business applications from those vendors, said Sanjay Sarathy, director of Sun's developer enablement group.
"This approach is the first portal offering we're aware of to take advantage of JCAs (to) connect legacy systems to a portal," he said. "Traditionally, (portal) vendors have offered their own widgets and gadgets. We took the tack that it might make sense to use a standard interface that has become part of the J2EE specification."
The JCA support will be available free by the end of March for the 3.0 release of iPlanet Portal Server. Sun plans to release white papers and sample code to help developers figure out how to make use of the technology, he said.iPlanet will also announce a service pack that includes two enhancements for the iPlanet Integration Server, said Dave Hearn, a Sun director of product marketing. The first is the ability to import WSDL (Web Services Description Language) files, which should cut the amount of time spent writing code for creating Web services. The other is the XML Adapter Designer, a new tool for writing adapters used to extract data from legacy systems. Both are available now for free download to iPlanet customers, Hearn said.