I do not like the P word. Oracle Portal has never quite enthralled me like some or rather many other products from Big Red have. But I think I am about to fall in love. Let me tell you a little bit about her.
During this year’s Oracle Open World conference, one of the many new things presented is: WebCenter. WebCenter will feature in some of the keynote presentations, in hands-on sessions and in other presentations. It is new Portal & Portlet oriented technology that will have the boundaries between Portals and ‘normal’ JSF WebApplications fade. WebCenter allows us for one to include JSR 168 & WSRP Portlets in our ADF Faces pages. It also provides us with JSF components that will allow us to make different sections of our ADF Faces page behave like (local) Portlets – we can allow the end user to hide and display those panels, move them about just like you can do with portlets in a ‘real’ Portal application, refresh them independently of one another, provide local popup-menus for every section etc.
Then there is the option to Portletize our own ADF Faces pages. This bascially means that without any specific programming on our part, we can make our application’s pages available as JSR 168 and WSRP compliant Portlets that can be included in anyone’s Portal.
WebCenter supports inter-portlets communication and parameter transfer. That means that if we are to include several Portlets in our ADF Faces page, we can have changes in one be communicated to another. Very muc like Partial Page Rendering in ADF Faces is being done today, we just specify declaratively that Portlet A has Portlet B as a Partial Trigger. A simple example would be one Portlet where you enter a zipcode thats causes another Portlet to get refreshed and bring you the weather forcast for that particular zipcode.
In the same way, WebCenter supports Single Sign One by making Security details available across Portlets in your web page.
Many more goodies
WebCenter will include the well known Omni Portlet and WebClipping Portlet and we can include those quickly in our web application. The same goes for any portlet you may have developed yourself according to either JSR-168 or the PDK interface defined by Oracle.
WebCenter leverages Secure Enterprise Search by providing both a search portlet and functionality to make your own applications crawlable and searchable. Using this functionality, it will be extremely simple to provide search functionality in any web application that allows users to search across documents and text-fields sitting in the application’s database or file system.
WebCenter also ships with a Discussion Forums component (Jive Discussion Forum) that enables us to rapidly set up Discussion Forums in our own applications. In the same way, a Wiki (YAWiki Server) is integrated into WebCenter and embeddable in our own application pages.
Then there is support for Content Repositories. WebCenter supports JCR (see for some explanation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JSR-170 ) – the Java API for accessing Content Repositories, JSR-170- which means that from WebCenter components we can configure any JSR-170 compliant Content Repository and access it to search, maintain and view content. WebCenter will adopt Oracle Content DB as its default Content Repository, but others are supported as well, including good old Oracle Portal.
SOA for the User Interface
It is very interesting to see how using WebCenter technology, the boundaries fade between Portals and normal web applications. If your ADF Faces page contains one or more Portlets on top of its own content, and even its own content can be manipulated as Portlets can, then what is the big difference between ‘local’ content and remote content provided by a Portlet? I see huge potential for reuse of UI services. A potential that we have attributed to Portals and Portlets for a long time but whose promise I have not really seen delivered on. Most Portal platforms such in some minor or typically major way. Oracle Portal is a very heavy handed piece of technology that seems to break many of the architectural patterns we all work so hard on, suffer from a lot of history and legacy and miss out on many of the opportunities offered by the J2EE technology – Portal being mostly a Web PL/SQL thing.
With Oracle WebCenter, I see a much more lightweight technology, entirely Java based and fitting perfectly with normal ADF Faces application development. This I see taking off real soon, as it allows many powerful pieces of functionality quickly integrated into the web application we develop in a refreshingly simple manner. However, the true potential it would seem is delivering on the SOA principles that Portals and Portlets had in theory but hardly ever in practice: the reuse of UI services through easy portletizing of standard JSF applications and consuming standard Portlets in those same standard web applications. There is no longer a distinction between a Portal page (with Portlets) and a Web Application page with normal data input and output items. Pieces of User Interface logic can be made available as ‘services’ (portlets) that can easily be integrated into any web application. Not by reusing the code, copying in a JAR, but by actually leveraging a running portlet in some application server that feeds a portion of your application’s screens. I like that very much and see huge promise.
WebCenter will be available as an extension to JDeveloper as well as the Application Server, probably shipping near the end of 2006 (it makes for a nice Christmas present to all of us I would say), as part of the 10.1.3.2 patch release. Note: WebCenter will be an extra-cost option on top of the Application Server. The precise license details are yet to be announced.
I expect many details and screenshots on WebCenter to become available over the next few days as WebCenter is unveiled to crowd. We were lucky enough to have our own private session yesterday with product managers for Oracle Fusion Middleware. Just watch the Blogs and OTN and a lot more will become clear.