Oracle buys Sun

Oracle announced it will acquire Sun.

Another big Portal/Content Management vendor is now an infrastructure vendor. Sometimes I wonder if  everything will soon become an appliance – you buy a Solaris box and it will come bundled not only with the OS (obviously) but also with WebCenter (or one of the numerous Oracle Portal type products), Content Server and so on. IBM, EMC and Microsoft can do this already in some sense.

Sun had open sourced its entire JES or Java ES (Java Enterprise System) sometime back and more recently dropped the JES Portal Server in favor of a partnership with Liferay. The result was WebSynergy, Sun’s branded portal based on Liferay’s codebase. It is not clear how Oracle will continue this partnership and frankly  they already have too many portal kind of offerings to continue with this. However, I think Liferay has a strong offering (and recently opened a new office in India) and will continue to be a good open source alternative whether or not Oracle continues this partnership.

The other component of JES that might have some relevant features is probably Sun Java Communications Suite which has features for collaboration  – things like calendar, messaging, Instant messenger as well as support for mobile communications. Some of these could be good additions to Oracle’s Fusion.

On a different note though, Janus had this to say on twitter:

Oracle buys sun – now Oracle has 5 enterprise portals! a new commercial for Larry: 5 out of 12 most significant portals are powered by ORCL

In spite of that, they had to resort to static pages!?

Goodbye 2008, Welcome 2009

Okay so another year comes to an end and while we welcome the new year, here’s a look at some of the themes (in a random order) of the year gone by that might have an impact on the Content Technologies next year.

Verticalized Applications

Content Management Systems as horizontal solutions have been there for long and most known vendors provide similar features. The industry however is asking for more domain specific solutions built on standard CMS repositories. Based on this demand and the fact that this provides a differentiation to CMS vendors, I hope to see more and more domain or vertical specific solutions like Loan Origination, Claims Processing and other similar solutions/accelerators from many CMS vendors. Also, with the slowdown in economy, it is easier to sell a domain solution than a pure horizontal solution.

Portal and Content Consolidation

Many enterprises struggle with multitude of applications doing overlapping functionality. Organizations have multiple CMS repositories and many portals. This often leads to duplication of content varied user experience and huge costs. Because of huge cost pressures, many organizations have been considering consolidation of their content applications.

This will lead to following benefits:

  • Reduced Hardware Infrastructure as you don’t need those 5 different ECM repositories
  • Reduced employee costs as you do not need skilled people across 5 different portal servers
  • Standardized processes and hence increased productivity
  • Reduced employee training costs
  • Unified User Experience
  • Reduced Integration, Maintenance and Support Costs

I believe this could be a very important way to reduce and control costs as well as bringing in some standardization. So many organizations would start focused initiatives to consolidate their existing applications.

Open Source

Open Source Content Management and Portal solutions have matured quite a bit. Because of this and the fact that there is cost pressure on everyone, enterprises that would not even consider Open Source solutions are now more favorable towards them. They are becoming open to experimenting with technologies that are generally not considered *enterprisey*.  Many of the open source products are being tracked by waves and quadrants of major analysts and  that reflects a huge change. This is also good for the Open Source vendors because many enterprises use these analysts’ reports for shortlisting.  Many open source products have also released commercial versions and that is another reason that gives these vendors a foot hold within enterprises who did not want to use these citing lack of support options.

Another factor that encourages the use of Open Source products is that people want to quickly build “informal” applications which many commercial products can not do well. There are many popular Open Source (and free) products that do certain things much better.

Although, initial cost could reduce by using Open Source, organizations should carefully look at the impact over a longer horizon and should consider Open Source as another alternative in the market place. They should select Open Source based on overall fitment to their requirements and not just make a decision based on initial licensing cost.

Web 2.0

Widgets and Gadgets have been popular for quite sometime. Some products had gadgets much before portlet spec. I am sure many people have seen examples of counters, ad banners etc which are essentially widgets only. However, there is a considerable interest now in using these within the enterprises for more sophisticated portal like applications.

Currently, most social networking is horizontal – you become a member of a social network, I become one and we write scraps on each other. What next?  I believe Vertical Social Networking is becoming popular.  Some areas where we already see this or have potential are in the areas of Jobs, Real Estate and Classifieds. After all, It is easier to buy an old laptop from a contact’s contact rather than an unknown person who’s advertised in classifieds.

In order to reduce cost, many enterprises, especially those that require product support want to leverage the communities for customer support. They want people to help each other and come to their support only as a last resort. What this means is increasing use of tools that enable collaboration – wikis for example. Many enterprises are using these communities not just for support but also as a way to generate revenues.

Some organizations are also using web 2.0 as a means to Knowledge Management. Instead of regular process oriented KM which forces people to contribute, they want to use mechanisms that encourage people who in turn want to contribute. This is a huge shift – people don’t like contributing if they are forced to do it but are likely to contribute if they enjoy doing it. This also means a shift from “control and process” to “informality and accessibility”.

In spite of all this, I still think how to use Web 2.0 within the enterprise is still not very clear to many organizations and there is a huge scope for improvement. One of the reasons people cite is that workforce is used to applications that became successful on the consumer Internet and want to have same kind of experience for enterprise applications but they need to be very careful. Here’s a nice post by Vilas.

Alternate Delivery Models

There is more acceptance for SaaS based offerings. This is especially true for applications that are not business mission critical. Businesses are experimenting with SaaS based providers because this saves them dependence on their internal IT apart from other benefits like faster time to market, no capital expenditure, low risk and so on. Along with this,  alternate pricing models are also being looked at. Some examples are pay per document, pay per loan, pay per claim etc.

Standards

The portlet spec 2.0 or JSR 286 was released. Although the portlet standards (JSR 286 and JSR 168) have been relatively successful in terms of adoption and support, the content repository standard, JSR 170 has not been that popular. Meanwhile, vendors are collaborating on technologies that will help customers reuse existing investments. As an example, many vendors have come up with CMIS. Okay this is not a standard yet but is possibly in that direction. A standard like this is very much needed and hopefully CMIS will achieve what JSR-170/283 did not.

I would also hope that a standard emerges for Gadgets/Widgets.

Site Management and Personalization

Traditionally Content Management was decoupled from Site Management. However, marketing and business people now want more control and there is increasing convergence of Content Management and Site Management. This essentially means better user experience, rich and dynamic sites. This also means features like personalization are making a come back. This has also resulted because of cheap bandwidth and better client side technologies

Document Services

Document Composition and Generation is becoming part of mainstream ECM. There have been a few partnerships as well as mergers in this space. Related terms in this space are Document Output Management and Forms Management.

This was probably the last post of this year. Thanks for reading the blog and here’s wishing you a great year ahead.

Commercial Offerings from Open Source Product Vendors

Two vendors released their commercial offerings based on very popular open source products. Earlier this month, Acquia released commercial Drupal which is a collection of popular 3rd party applications packaged with Drupal to extend its social publishing capabilities.

Liferay also followed and released an enterprise edition of its Portal product. The enterprise edition will be a commercially supported version of its free standard edition. This release also came with a newly done website as well as a new offering called Social Office (to be released soon) which extends Liferay’s collaboration features.

A major reason that hinders Open Source product usage especially among enterprises has been lack of commercial support. If a bank’s loan origination system is down, they wouldn’t be too happy to depend solely on community support! Alfresco already had this model and now with Acquia and Liferay having announced it, I think enterprises will increasingly consider open source products as viable options. After all, they will get benefits of Open Source and Community along with the promise of commercial grade support at lower price points. This also gives them the comfort that there is seriousness behind the product and not just a hobby-ist’s effort.

CMIS – Yet another acronym or more than that?

Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) is a new standard that (from the spec)

… will define a domain model and set of bindings, such as Web Service and REST/Atom that can be used by applications to work with one or more Content Management repositories/systems.

This spec  will soon be submitted to OASIS. It has participation from IBM, EMC, Microsoft, Open Text, Oracle, SAP and Open Source Alfresco.

Around the time when JSR 170 was released, I had written that many products have proprietary repositories and it might not be trivial for them to re-architect those to be JCR compliant. This seems to be an important consideration of this spec and thus CMIS is designed to be an abstraction over existing systems. So it does not require the products to make any major changes to their  architecture. It does not even try to make it mandatory to expose ALL features via CMIS.

There is also a recognition of the fact that many organizations indeed have multiple ECM systems and it is going to remain like that. So it might not be possible for everyone to consider migration and/or consolidation to a common repository.

Above all, it has support from Microsoft. And with a focus on REST, HTTP, ATOM it has that distinct feel of web 2.0, content mashups and so on.

So what does it mean for JCR? I’d like to believe what Kas Thomas has written on CMS Watch based on his interaction with David Nuescheler. In fact, the first ever draft implementation of CMIS is based on a JCR (Alfresco)! However, buyers of new ECM systems will now be less enthusiastic about the “support for JSR 170 tick mark” in their RFPs and that will mean reduced pressure on product vendors to support the JCR standard.

Also there is something that i’m trying to figure out and i’m hoping the experts can point me to something. All the diagrams, including the one here show how this spec aims to improve interoperability among different ECM systems by having an application that can access any CMS. However, doesn’t interoperability also mean interaction between the participating CMSs as well – for example, if CMIS enabled EMC Documentum and FileNet are involved and i check out a document in Documentum, the FileNet users will also see that document checked out. Or does this use case not make any sense? We have seen a lot of scenarios where a customer has multiple ECM systems and they want this ability via a common interface.

Alfreco Partners with Adobe

Alfresco and Adobe announced a new partnership in which Adobe will embed Alfresco’s ECM in its LiveCycle ES. This will create an offering that provides a more complete solution integrating Content Management with Document Composition (or Document Output Management), something about which I have written before. EMC’s acquisition late last year of Document Sciences’ xPression was another news that brought the two – ECM and Document Composition together.

This announcement though is an OEM deal. Here’s a nice post by Alan on what it means and what could be the future of this deal 🙂

There are lots of use cases where such an integration could be very useful, especially for customers of Adobe. When one creates a dynamic document using a product like this, one needs to manage both the raw data as well as output documents. So there are aspects like workflows, library services, metadata, search, version management, storage and archival. So if you are an insurance company that generates insurance policies or a Telecom provider that generates electronic bills, you need to be able to manage these and this is where a CMS is required. Most Document Composition products lack these features and hence often integrate with ECM products.

Apart from this, LiveCycle did not have a robust rules engine which is a essential requirement to dynamically generate documents based on certain rules. It can now use Alfresco’s rules engine (Alfresco rules or the bundled Jboss).

Alfresco  will also probably get a nice flex based front end which can also take advantage of its features (tagging, web scripts, blogs) and provide more compelling offering to build web 2.0 applications. But that again would be useful more for Adobe’s customers.

Now Everyone can create Mobile Web Sites

If you ever wanted to have a web presence for yourself or your business, there was never any dearth of choices. There are many service providers which let you create web sites quickly using templates and wizards. Google Sites, Google Pages, Yahoo/Tripod/Geocities all let you create such web sites. However, if you wanted to create a site that could be viewed on a PDA or mobile, it was not that easy. You either needed specialized products or at the very minimum had to create a different template (or theme) that was optimized for mobile delivery.

Volantis now brings its well regarded Mobility Server (which it had open sourced recently) to power Ubik.com, a service that enables individuals and small businesses create sites for mobiles just like they are used to creating web sites. Volantis has a device library of more than 5100 devices and as a result, the site that is created is automatically “adapted” for viewing on a wide variety of handsets.

volantis
Once you create an account, you will be given a choice of many themes and templates. Unlike similar services for web, a template here is actually more than just about look & feel – it is actually a sample starter site with pre-built pages that can be used as a starting point for your site. While you are creating the site, you can do a mobile preview as well. It also provides the ability to upload images and multimedia files using MMS and/or email. When you are ready, the site can be published at http://sitename.ubik.net.

I also see that if there is a hyperlink to another page which itself is not on this site, it automatically tries to adapt it for mobile display. This probably means that there is a way to convert external, existing sites to be proxied via this service for mobile delivery. However, I was not able to find a straight forward way. I assume it requires the external site to have its output in some specified format (xdime?) but then i’m not sure.

This is a beta version and i’m hoping they will add some more useful features in future:

  1. The site I create is only a mobile site. So I actually still need to create another one for the web using one of the other services. I would think that it should be easy to create a site for web and mobiles using ubik.com.
  2. Ability to use my own domain name
  3. Some dynamic templates would be very useful. Right now, I can only create a static site. As an example, a blogging template would be very nice to have.

Services such as these will indeed help in making the mobile internet much more popular. Now every one will be able to create a mobile site (and hopefully applications as well).

Drupal for Social Publishing…

Drupal is one of the rare platforms for building social publishing applications that is built on top of a rather decent WCM platform. It has a  strong foundation with a very flexible taxonomy system which along with thousands of 3rd party modules enables you to assemble social publishing applications.

However, these modules could be your biggest problem as well because many times, module upgrades do not keep pace with Drupal upgrades. There are around 4000 modules listed on Drupal and there are modules for doing many things – integration, collaboration, content, community, commerce and so on.

Read more about this on my post at CMS Watch.

Goodbye 2007, Welcome 2008

2007 has been a good year for portal and content technologies. Here’s a summary of some themes that became popular and will probably be discussed in 2008 as well.

Web 2.0: There’s nothing new about it as we’ve been seeing the impact of web 2.0 for quite sometime now. What’s new is the fact that Web 2.0  is also increasingly becoming popular behind the firewalls.  Many products have incorporated web 2.0 features and they are not limited to support for AJAX  front-ends. Many portals already integrate with Google Gadgets, Alfresco announced integration with Facebook which itself is getting a lot of attention.

SaaS: Software as a Service has become quite popular in some technology horizontals like CRM. It has now started getting noticed in the CMS space as well. Interwoven and Fatwire entered the SaaS space by acquiring other companies whereas salesforce.com, an established SaaS vendor has also entered the ECM space. There are many existing vendors like Spring CM and Xythos. With salesforce.com getting into this space, along with indications of entry of more established ECM vendors, technology buyers will have another option.  

Standards: There have been a lot of discussions in blogosphere about standards or the lack thereof. Although, there are many benefits of following standards, there are often trade-offs to be made and it may not be that a “Standards approach is always better”. We must bring a balance between the two approaches as there are important trade-offs to be made. And i still think JSR-170 (or its next version JSR-283) have not been as popular as they should be.

Open Source: There has been an increased activity in the Open Source Portal and Content Management Products space. More and more people are using Open Source as a viable alternative to commercial products. In some scenarios, products like Alfresco, Magnolia, OpenCms and Liferay can give their commercial counterparts a serious run for their money.

Convergence: The lines between WCM, Portal, Web Analytics, Search etc are blurring. Many CIOs are asking for products that can do everything instead of buying multiple point solutions. However, more than technology, I think its the way an organization is structured which decides how easy or difficult is it to achieve convergence.

Google: We can’t complete this discussion without mentioning Google, can we? There are talks of a CMS by Google which already is an established player in associated areas of search, analytics, portal and collaboration.

Okay this was probably the last post of 2007. Here’s wishing you all a very happy new year.

Open Source Mobile Content Delivery

Even though most CMS products claim they can deliver content to any device, the fact remains that delivering content to mobile devices is quite different. What most of them provide is the ability to separate content from its presentation and then apply a different template if you want to deliver to mobile device. BTW, this blog also uses the same technique – try accessing it from a mobile phone or a blackberry and see what I mean. You will see the same content using a different template which is optimized for mobile devices. However, mobile delivery is much more than this and so people often use multiple products to do web content management/web delivery and mobile delivery. Also, there was no option other than “build your own” if you were using Open Source products like Alfresco, OpenCms, Magnolia or others.

Volantis recently announced the availability of Volantis Mobility Server under Open Source license. I think this is an important development because it will encourage people to experiment and create more content and applications for the mobile internet.

I wish one of the Open Source CMS vendors comes up with an integration with Volantis so that there is a well integrated, end to end content management and delivery for both web as well as other channels. My limited experience in playing around with Alfresco and Volantis shows it should not be too difficult. Matt Asay is associated with Volantis and Alfresco and so I’m hoping we’ll soon have something 🙂

Flurry of Activity in the Open Source space

There has been an increased activity in the Open Source Portal and Content Management Products space. Many new versions have been released in recent times and there’s much more to follow. Joomla!, Alfresco, OpenCms, Liferay and JBoss all released their next versions.

Joomla! released their first ever version (although Beta). This was a completely re-written code base without any Mambo code.

Alfresco

Alfresco have released the Alfresco Community Release 2.1 (Release Candidate). This includes WCM RC 2.1 and Records Management RC 2.1 also. Some of the features useful for me and some observations are as follows:

  1. There’s a very nice integration with MS Word. So the users can work (create, edit, check-in, check-out, workflow, metadata, rules etc.) using the familiar desktop environment instead of logging in to a web interface. You basically map alfresco repository as a shared drive using CIFS or WebDav and then do all your activities from within word. Here’s the link.
  2. This is a good first step and I’m hoping the good folks at Alfresco will add more features.
    • A similar plugin for other desktop applications like Powerpoint and Excel
    • In the current shape, the plugin works by way of a pop up window. It would be much more user friendly if instead of that, there are options like “File -> Save to Alfresco” and “File -> Open from Alfresco” with the Word menu. That will make it even easier for business users for doing simple tasks like opening and saving. This can be achieved by mapping the alfresco repository as a shared drive but then that is different from actual word integration because you can’t really check-out or check-in.
    • Using this pop up mechanism, one can configure only single Alfresco repository. If there are multiple Alfresco installations, users will have to change these settings depending on which repository they are working on.
  3. The WCM has many new enhancements. There’s an option to do deployments to one or multiple servers from staging sand box. I think Alfresco and Magnolia are one of the few Open Source products that provide the ability to deploy content from one server to another. This provides the advantage of decoupling staging and delivery.
  4. There’s a Blog Publishing module. One could manage blog posts as content in Alfresco and then post to a WordPress or a TypePad blog.
  5. Another good feature is the ability to manage Translations and Documents in multiple languages.
  6. Alfresco WCM Website Framework (WSF) gives a website framework with sample forms for content entry, navigation, display templates and best practices. This can be used as a basis for building new websites and will hopefully improve time to market. This is very similar to TemplateOne sample by OpenCms. It would be good though if Alfresco could come up with a wizard or AMP based approach for configuring this sample site. Otherwise one needs to create 8 sample forms, configure display templates, configure workflows etc manually.

OpenCms

OpenCms also released version 7. In fact they also relaunched their site using OpenCms 7.0 and that’s a good way of proving how good it is. It has many new features like:

  1. An improved link management (BTW that is also there as beta functionality in Alfresco)
  2. WebDav access
  3. Ability to define relationships between different content items
  4. An improved security and permissioning system. You can now have delegated administration
  5. Usability improvements and use of Ajaxy features

Check this link for all the new enhancements. However, unlike Alfresco and Magnolia, OpenCms neither supports JSR 170 nor JSR 168.

Liferay

Liferay 4.3 was also released. Here’s the link to new features. The features I found useful for us are

  1. The ability to have the concept of staging and production environments. Typically requirements of these two environments are very different in terms of caching (you won’t cache content when authors are creating new content all the time), scalability and user groups.
  2. Liferay now provides the ability to host multiple portals on the same installation. This could be useful to provide an ASP or a hosted offering.
  3. Integration with Exchange, Eclipse and support for WebDav
  4. And yes, many new out of the box portlets apart from an already existing big list. Liferay has been supporting Google gadgets long before IBM and recently announced by Jboss too. There’s also this ability to use folksonomy style tags.

JBoss

JBoss announced release of JBoss Portal 2.6. There are some more details here.