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E-Portal Software Options: A Comparison of Current Products

In the third of four articles on e-portals, e-business consultant Michelle Johnston compares some of the e-portal software options available on the market.
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The E-Portal Market

A plethora of offerings are currently available in the e-portal software market. At the higher end of the market, application server–based offerings make it possible to bring together all aspects of portal functionality. IBM/Lotus, BEA, Oracle, and Sun's products tend to provide interoperability with products providing content-management features. At the lower end of the market, pure portal offerings are provided by Plumtree, Yahoo!, Viador, and Silverstream.

Some e-portal software is largely proprietary and encourages use of other products by the same vendor, whereas other offerings are very open.

This article discusses the main strengths and weaknesses of a selection of major offerings.


This is a fast-changing industry. Product names, business alliances, and so on tend to change rapidly. The information in this article was current as of October 2002, but some names, URLs, and so on will almost certainly change by the end of 2002.

IBM WebSphere

IBM's WebSphere software platform, aimed primarily at the e-workplace market, is simply a collection of services that helps companies to consolidate their intranets (see Figure 1).


A future article will deal with e-workplace portals.

Figure 1Figure 1 IBM's WebSphere.


All figures in this article courtesy of Owendo.


PortalBuilder is a framework for bringing data sources together and presenting them (see Figure 2). It has some in-built personalization functionality, but no real built-in content-management facilities. Instead, it assembles content from multiple sources without changing the visual presentation from that provided in the source feed by default. (Yahoo! and TIBCO co-developed PortalBuilder. For details, see the review of TIBCO ActivePortal by PC Magazine, August 2002.) However, there is the option of integrating PortalBuilder with other products—for example, by using Interwoven's Content Management Infrastructure, although the additional price is often prohibitive and clients may opt to write simple content-management features instead.

Figure 2Figure 2 PortalBuilder.

Sun ONE Portal Server

The Sun ONE Portal Server (formerly iPlanet Portal Server, see Figure 3) is a complete portal platform for deploying robust business-to-employee, business-to-business, and business-to-consumer portals. The Sun ONE Portal Server provides the services required to build portal sites, including user and community management, personalization, aggregation, security, integration, and search. This portal platform is enhanced through feature-rich, add-on offerings that address key requirements, such as wireless access, secure remote access, knowledge management, and real-time collaboration, plus Yahoo!'s global content available in 13 languages and 2,000 content sources.

Figure 3Figure 3 Sun ONE Portal Server.

Sybase Enterprise Portal

Sybase Enterprise Portal (EP) is an extremely open product—J2EE-compliant, compliant with LDAP or Microsoft Active directory, offering built-in single-sign-on features, as well as middleware and connector technologies providing integration with enterprise applications (see Figure 4). It provides not only the portal infrastructure required for centralized system management, security, content management, and personalization and integration services, but extensions for B2B and multichannel distribution (mobile/wireless). The B2B extension facilitates collaboration between enterprises using XML rather than EDI, while the wireless extension gives users secure access to enterprise portals from different media.

Sybase EP provides three types of personalization: automatic, explicit, and profile-based. All in all, it's the dark horse of the e-portal offerings, seemingly largely undersold and underestimated.

Figure 4Figure 4 Sybase Enterprise Portal.

Oracle9i AS

By comparison to the Sybase offering, Oracle's application server product (formerly called WebDB, now called Oracle9i AS) is very limiting in the sense that its primary aim appears to be simply to web-enable information and data held in Oracle tools and databases (see Figure 5).

Although it does provide personalization features and single-sign-on functionality, it doesn't simplify integrating data from other sources (although the user can write code to do this or use portlets provided by independent vendors). The web server used is also mandated (Apache is built into the portal). The strengths of the Oracle offering include good security and access control facilities, however.

Figure 5Figure 5 Oracle9i AS.

Microsoft SharePoint Server

Microsoft SharePoint Server is a very useful portal solution for those who want to create, manage, and share content within Microsoft platforms (see Figure 6). However, it's really aimed at the intranet/e-workplace market and is not advisable for those with more ambitious or open requirements for e-portals. It has some good collaboration and document/workflow features and good version-control features. It also has good personalization features, using Digital Dashboard technologies, and of course it integrates exceptionally well with all Microsoft products. It could even be fairly powerful for B2B if used in conjunction with all the latest .NET products, including Microsoft BizTalk Server and Microsoft Site Server.

Figure 6Figure 6 Microsoft SharePoint Server.

Plumtree Corporate Portal

Personalization and enterprise application integration (EAI) are the two main strengths of the Plumtree Corporate Portal, which is primarily targeted at intranet/e-workplace or collaborative implementations in the SME market (see Figure 7). However, Plumtree has been ranked as number one in its market by a host of industry analysts, including Gartner, IDC, and Forrester.

Figure 7Figure 7 Plumtree Corporate Portal.

BEA WebLogic Portal

BEA WebLogic Portal is another product that provides a framework for building custom portals rather than a package portal solution. BEA believes that this provides greater overall business value for their customers and that this is why their product is such a success.

They claim that use of their product "can reduce the cost and complexity of providing a broad set of users access to information, applications and business processes" (press release).

In addition to providing general portal foundation services, personalization, administration, EAI, and interaction management, the product now also offers all the My Yahoo! Enterprise Edition modules (announcement).

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