Oracle pitches portals

As Web portals are becoming more complex, so are the architectures and buzzwords used to describe how to build them. Oracle Corp.

As Web portals are becoming more complex, so are the architectures and buzzwords used to describe how to build them.

Oracle Corp. is the latest vendor to take a stab at trying to make easier the way developers build the information hubs of the future. On Wednesday, company officials outlined Oracle's Portlet Framework, which is based on a new Oracle term for a reusable component, the "portlet."

"We want to provide an infrastructure and architecture that people can use to build their own web site, that will contain things like employee, supplier and sales portals," explains Jeremy Burton, Oracle vice president of Internet platform marketing.

Portable 'Portlets'

To do this, Oracle plans to expose portlets - a set of Java classes that form a "wrapped" piece of an existing part of an application or a web site. These classes will be able to interface with "any" back-end platform, whether it be an Oracle database or a third-party legacy mainframe application, Oracle claims. Oracle plans to make the base foundation for portlets a public standard, approved by one or more standards groups, such as the Worldwide Web Consortium or Object Management Group, Burton says.

Portlets will be registered with Oracle's Portal Framework. The Framework will provide single sign-on to any LDAP directory, as well as access to portlet application and services like discussion groups, calendaring, web search and the like. Some of these services will be built into the framework by Oracle; others will come from third parties.

Any Java development tool can be used to build portlets, in Oracle's world view. But Oracle is promising to provide a portlet software development kit later this year. It also is enhancing its Oracle WebDB environment to provide a dozen or so portal templates.

Framework Vapor

And like other development tool vendors, Oracle is promising that the growing class of mobile devices will be able to access data resident in its framework via user-specific views. Oracle's code-name for this effort is Project Panama.

Panama's not the only vaporware among Oracle's framework components. The Framework itself and portlet assembly capabilities won't be available until November, when Oracle makes available a beta of WebDB 3.0. The first prepackaged portals from Oracle won't be available until the company ships Oracle Applications 11I, around mid-2000.

While Oracle's strategy is still out there, one analyst says he likes what he's heard so far. "Oracle's building on the thought of reusable components. The idea is good - letting the user community, based on authorized permissions - to get at their data how they want," says Brian Kalita, a senior analyst with the Aberdeen Group.