Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Becoming a Popfly user

The day after I requested an invitation på the Popfly Alpha, I got an invitation by "Suzanne" on the Microsoft Popfly Team. Acception the invitation and it's time to get off to create my own profile with a Display Name, Page Title, Display Title, Tag Line, RSS feed and banner picture. This isn't MySpace, right?

© Copyright 2007, Tomas Elfving

Monday, June 11, 2007

What is Popfly?

There's a lot of talk about Popfly now. It's a new web application to create Mashups. Mashups is a fusion of information and application based on various web-based sources. A Mashup may for instance link new, video, photo, maps etc together in an integrated application. In Popfly You can easily build and share mashups, gadgets, Web pages, and applications. Popfly consists of two parts:
1. Popfly Creator is a set of online visual tools for building Web pages and mashups.
2. Popfly Space is an online community of creators where you can host, share, rate, comment and even remix creations from other Popfly users.

Check out the Popfly webcast and You will get the big picture.

Popfly builds of the new Microsoft technology Silverlight, which is a crossplatform browser plug-in. A a first glance it seems similar to Flash, but I would not take that comparison any further at this point. There's also a webcast out there about how to integrate Popfly and MOSS: Popfly-SharePoint integration.

I'm requesting an invitation to the Popfly alpha at www. popfly.com. I'm now waiting impatiently...

© Copyright 2007, Tomas Elfving

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Evaluating EpiServer 4.61 as portal framework

EPiServer has since version 4.51 a built-in support for portal functionality through its CMS add-on “Portlet Framework”, and in the latest version 4.61 has the support been further developed. Version 5 is scheduled during the second half of 2007. The Portal framework of EPiServer is based on Microsoft ASP.NET 1.1 and has recently added support for producing and consuming WSRP (Web Services for Remote Portlets) -based portlets and for Microsoft WebParts, also used in MOSS 2007.

Based on the identified evaluation areas described in my previous post "The need for a portal architecture", EPiServer have been evaluated as portal framework for development of both intra-, extra- and internet solutions for larger companies or organizations. The figure below illustrates a fairly generic system architecture with portal services. One important aspect to look into regarding portal products is to what extent the portal services are reusable, programmable components.

Regarding portal services included in the product, EPiServer has the following features.
- Document management
EPiServer has a basic support for document management with capacity to define meta-data and have version management on documents using what EPiServer calls Unified File System (UFS). UFS is a component framework for EPiServer with possibility to extend it with other external data sources. The functionality is fairly basic especially compared to products like BEA WebLogic, IBM Websphere and MOSS 2007.

- Collaboration tools
EPiServer has basic support for collaboration through a predeveloped template where users can share documents, new, calendars and notes. It uses the built-in user- and group management facility of EpiServer.

- Search
The standard installation of EPiServer has a simple search engile covering content stored in the EpiServer database (no external sites can be indexed for search). EPiServer relies on 3rd-party products adding various functionality. SiteSeeker and MondoSearch are two examples of partner products that has proven to work well.

- Workflow
EPiServer has a proprietary framework for configuration and development of workflow functionality using the Windows Workflow Foundation in .NET 3.0.
- Forms
EPiServer has forms management based on XForms. Via EPiServers forms management any editor can publish simple forms using the EPiServer editor user interface. For more advanced forms with integration to external systems custom development is required.

EPiServers support for portlets can be used in two ways:
1. Use single portlets integrate with other standard EPiServer modules/controls. This can be done with the standard EPiServer licence.
2. Use the full EPiServer Portal Framework where a page i entirely built by several portlets layed out on the page. EPiServer Portal Framework is an addon product to EPiServer.

Key functions for EPiServer as portal platform:
- Support for WSRP (open standard from OASIS)
- Support for WebParts (Microsoft)
- Support for both produce and consume WSRP-based portlets
- Built-in support for content management
- By supporting WSRP, ability to consume both java and .NET portlets.
- Ability to mix WSRP-portlets with standard controls in .NET and EPiServer

Furthermore one can have personal setting managing which portlets to show and if you want, let the user decide for himself using the built-in administration interface. There are also built-in portlet adapters for publishing content via RSS and IFRAME.
A new version of EPiServer is coming during fall 2007. The new version of EPiServer is launched with a number of architecturally important mechanisms. It will for instance have full support for Microsoft .NET 3.0 including Windows Workflow Foundation and Windows Communication Foundation. EPiServer will also feature a more open programming interface for consumption of components (such as user management) to ensure improved scalability. With these changes EPiServer have taken a big step towards being a more complete platform for development of complex web solutions.

I have found the following main arguments for EPiServer as a portal platform:

- It has a strong track record for internet sites with portal functionality.

- EPiServer has with its portal framework managed well to add portal functionality with its popular CMS. It supports portal standards well and works fine together with EPiServers regular content management functionality. It is, especially from an editor and administrator usability perspective, an advantage that CMS and portal functionality is handled within the same tool.

- In a scenario where EpiServer coexists with MOSS or Websphere or other portal platforms, its integration capabilities becomes important. EPiServer has support for WebParts, WSRP, IFrames and RSS integration with other portal tools.

The following weaker areas have been identified with EPiServer 4.61 and EPiServer portal framework:

- Scalability - Version 4.61 EPiServer has a known limitation in handling a large number of registered users (for instance on a intranet or extranet with 10000+ registered users). Even though an external Active directory is used, EpiServer also stores the users temporarily internally. This leads to problems with large number of users when EPiServer does a very performace-heavy search (read JOIN) when authentificating in the EPiServer-database.

- Portlet technology - Just as all products supporting the WSRP, I have seen that the WSRP-technology is still not mature to handle complex web solutions with high requirements om interactivity, design and usability. The most notable limitations are:

  • Handling of presentation/design and the use of Cascading Style Sheets.

  • Handling of DOCTYPE which makes accessibility adoption harder

  • WSRP includes no quality assurance of content. Content in the WSRP portlet can break accessibility compliance of a whole page in the portal

- Search
The built-in search functionality of EPiServer can’t handle the requirements of indexing all the different sites that most companies has. There are 3rd party products such as MondoSearch and SiteSeeker that have been proven successful complements. They can be used at an additional licencing cost.

- Portal components
EpiServer’s support for important components such as document management, workflow, collaboration is rudimentary and insufficient, especially for intranet and the extranet solutions.

EPiServer is a strong CMS product, it’s ease of use is well documented. As a portal framework however, EPiServer still can’t compete with MOSS and Websphere mainly due to limited functionality in the portal components. On sites with requirements on compliance to accessibility standards and guidelines (WCAG) is EPiServer on the other hand a far better product that both MOSS and Websphere.

© Copyright 2007, Tomas Elfving