Can GateIn, the new JBoss Portal/eXo Portal combination, outshine Liferay?

I know I’m way behind on this. I’m kind of surprised at how little attention it has received. Maybe I need to refresh my portal-based news feeds. In any case, earlier this Summer, JBoss and eXo announced they would be combining the JBoss Portlet Container with eXo Portal to create a new project called GateIn. Other than the similarity between the concepts “portal” and “gate” I’m not sure what they are going for with the name, but don’t let that throw you off. To get an idea of what it’s about, check out the demo.

Most of our clients looking for open source Java portals have been interested in either JBoss Portal or Liferay. In choosing between the two, one consideration was that, historically, JBoss Portal has been less about out-of-the-box portlets and flashy UI and more about providing a presentation framework. Clients developing solutions that were really 100% custom apps with a portal-like interface leaned toward JBoss Portal (especially if they were already a JBoss shop). Clients looking for more of an “instant community” with ease-of-use on the configuration side and a large number of out-of-the-box portlets leaned more toward Liferay. GateIn appears to be a big step forward for JBoss Portal in terms of the user experience for portal administration and makes JBoss Portal about more than just a framework for presentation services.

Beyond requiring a great user experience for both end users (site consumers) and portal administrators (content managers), portals must also have a fast and intuitive development model. I think this is especially true lately as lighter-weight presentation frameworks have become more popular. As the difference in capabilities between portal and non-portal presentation frameworks becomes less and less, portals can’t afford to offer a soul-sucking development experience.

I haven’t spent any time customizing GateIn so I can’t comment on the developer experience. What I do know is that when you move from developing code using lightweight frameworks like Drupal or Django to Java portal servers like Liferay, you feel the increased complexity immediately. Anti-Java-ites will say that a lot of the complexity in the development experience is there because it’s Java and it will always be that way. I don’t think that’s true–look at frameworks like Grails and Wicket.

The point is, for GateIn to be a serious challenger to Liferay, they’ll need to provide not only the eye candy on the front-end, but also a developer experience that approaches the productivity level we can get with non-portal frameworks. If they can do that, they have a chance against Liferay. Of course even if they manage to do that, they are still up against the “Do we really need a portal server to do this?” undercurrent that threatens both projects. But that’s another blog post.

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