IBM revs WebSphere Portal

Next month IBM plans to roll out an updated version of its WebSphere Portal featuring improved content publishing capabilities and portlet creation and interoperability. Big Blue also offered a sneak peek at new embedded component functionality, due next year, designed to deliver on-demand productivity capabilities within the portal.

Set to ship on Dec. 30, Version 4.2 of WebSphere Portal will be integrated with IBM Content Manager, providing content publishing capabilities both to and from the master Content Manager repository. In addition, the portal will still provide a local content store.

Version 4.2 also will include Click-to-Action capabilities, which let portlets from different vendors communicate with one another. With Click-to-Action, users can assemble multiple portlets into a process or a navigation path through the portal.

Aiming to give business users the power to build portlets, the forthcoming version of WebSphere Portal will add portlet generator capabilities for PeopleSoft Inc. and Siebel Systems Inc. applications, according to Larry Bowden, vice president of IBM Portals, in Somers, N.Y.

The portlet generator tool lets non-technical users easily construct, name, and deliver portlets without coding or IT department intervention. The functionality means "you no longer have to ask IT [workers] or the vendor for a portlet to be built. Now the business user can construct exactly what they want," Bowden said. "We deconstructed the applications underneath into parts where they can have those displayed within a portlet."

IBM plans to roll out portlet generation capabilities for other applications in coming months, he added.

Previewing functionality due to appear in WebSphere Portal Version 5.0 mid-2003, IBM unveiled forthcoming embedded components designed to add basic productivity services to the portal on demand. The reusable, available as-needed components are an element of IBM's larger computing-on-demand initiative, which aims to deliver the right level of functionality when it is needed, according to Bowden.

The first set of the lightweight, browser-based components will deliver basic presentation, word processing, and spreadsheet capabilities available as services within the portal. The feature is not designed to compete against or replace Microsoft Office and other productivity suites aimed at the needs of power users, Bowden said.

"This is not a suite of office functionality. It is an awareness capability in the portal [to] a service in the back," Bowden said. "If you have a process where a spreadsheet needs to be called, wherever you are in a particular process you can have the portal make a call to those services. The portal is a great mechanism to have a bunch of services just sitting in the back waiting to be called by particular applications."

Version 5.0 will also integrate with Microsoft Office so anything created in Office can be viewed and integrated with the productivity components.

With its latest portal developments, IBM is driving the portal beyond an aggregation tool with integrated functionality to become a hub for application interaction, according to Stephen O'Grady, analyst at RedMonk, an analysis firm in Hollis, N.H.

"This is beyond just seeing applications in the portal and being able to access them, but having applications within the portal interface and talk to each other," he said.

"By giving someone a single interface that not only aggregates information and lets you interact with the application, but also lets those applications talk to each other within that interface [is] really introducing a whole new value proposition," O'Grady said. "This is getting into offering business process management and advanced workflow like capabilities through the portal framework."

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