Renewing the Portal Buzz...

Post date: Nov 16, 2010 2:43:54 PM

I've been to a few conferences recently, where there has been a lot of discussion about delivering applications to mobile users. Over the past few years, there has obviously been a lot of growth in that area with the iPhone and Android competition etc. Although these platforms are both very cool, they don't make it any easier to reach everyone. In fact, it is really beginning to fragment the user population and make it even more difficult to reach your customer.

Each of these platforms, as well as other less adopted ones, require knowledge beyond that of the typical web developer. They use a rich-client server paradigm, along the lines of the desktop metaphor on PCs, rather than a browser based approach. Some, including the Apple iPhone, also use a development environment (Objective C in this case) that is not a traditional web development language. Not to mention, reaching mobile users requires a paradigm shift in user interface design.

These hurdles make it an uphill climb for web developers that are willing to make the transition. However, there is some good news; all of these platforms still have a browser too. A web browser leaves the door open for traditional web developers to reach the mobile audiences. With a good strategy this can be equally effective and much less expensive.

This actually reminds me of a comment that I added to a blog post a couple years ago ( JSR-286: The Edge of Irrelavence )... my comment:

well constructed argument, but i think there is more at play. the argument does not account for the perspective or power of the end-user. the lack of traction of the JSR-168 specification is directly related to the barrier to adoption, and that is two fold:

the onslaught of mobile devices forces a shift in this space. commercial vendors now have a market for selling the individual applications that used to make up their proprietary suite of applications, and developers are being forced to to design modularized user interfaces in order to reach their users. it seems that this could change the way vendors do business, if they start to ask the question, "how do we get our applications to users on their phone?". this could be pie in the sky... however, if this led to vendors decoupling themselves from their proprietary framework for application delivery to begin profiting in sale of applications outside their framework, then this could be the slippery slope into removing themselves from the business of providing that framework for delivery... at the same time mobile applications could create a movement among developers to design one user interface for delivery via phone or browser. many developers hate user interface design anyway, so designing one that fits both needs could be an easy sell. ... the mobile revolution could be the catalyst for further portal adoption. this path could lead both of them to the now maturing standard for page fragment delivery, JSR-286. And more importantly, embracing community source solutions that are way ahead of the curve in the implementation of containers that deliver on these standards (i.e. JASIG uPortal).

Users are not likely to stop using desktop PCs anytime soon, but the trend toward mobile computing is clearly not going to end. To meet all these people where they enter the internet will require change; however, that change can be incremental. Adopting a good portal framework can help you achieve a quicker time to market at a lower cost.

We [LogicLander] believe that a portal still provides a strong delivery platform, and a good portal framework will give you the capability to reach mobile users with very little extra effort. In other words, you develop applications once, you deploy them to one place, and they are delivered everywhere. This gives you the ability to reach users on Mac desktop, Windows desktop, iPhone mobile, Android mobile, and others without the extra headaches described above. This AT MINIMUM is a good transitional strategy, one that you cannot meet with any other single technology.

Portals offer developers a delivery framework with many well known benefits including authentication, authorization, group management, high-level navigation, end-user customization, and organization branding. These features allow developers to concentrate on solving business problems, rather than wasting time re-hashing organization and organizational integration details. In addition to these very tangible benefits, the portal user experience has long required developers to think along the lines of a mobile delivery interface, pushing them to deliver modular content that consumes less screen real-estate. This has led portal developers to provide rich and well-organized user interfaces that answer 80% of the at-a-glance need, with the ability to click on relevant datapoints and dig deeper.

This environment and background gives portal developers an edge in the world of mobile development, as they are more skillfully prepared to think this way. If your organization has already implemented a portal, then you are ahead of the game. If not, we believe it is a good next step for solidifying your position in the mobile world.

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