Liferay after Plumtree
Pure play portals alive and kicking
Analysis Plumtree is being acquired by BEA. This raises two points. The first is the perennial question of integration that arises whenever a vendor buys another that has a directly competing offering: how will the two products be merged? How long will it take? Will they, in fact, be merged at all? If not, how long will the acquired product continue to be supported? And so on and so forth. Interesting questions but it is not my intention to address these in this article.
The second point with respect to this purchase is that it has been touted elsewhere as representing the demise of the pure play portal vendor, following earlier acquisitions of companies like CoreChange (by Open Text) and TopTier (by SAP). However, this is not the case. There is at least one pure play portal vendor still in the market, which is Liferay.
So, why haven’t you heard of Liferay? Because it is an open source vendor and open source companies don’t tend to market themselves very well. As an example, I am trying to get details about the open source KETL ETL (extract, transform and load) product from Kinetic Networks. Now, despite the fact that I have an introduction from Greenplum (one of the exceptions when it comes to open source marketing), which is a partner of Kinetic Networks, the company has continually failed to answer my e-mails requesting more information. Worse, there is absolutely nothing about the product on the company’s web site—not even a mention of it—you have to go to the Greenplum site for that.
I think this is a big problem for open source vendors: they are inclined to think that they can get market attention by word of mouth in much the same way that they can get developers to join in their communities. Unfortunately, that is not true—you can go so far, you can get some customers, even significant ones, but more is needed if you really want to get market momentum.
Of course, you could argue that it is the product that is more important than the company. There is some truth in this argument, particularly with respect to the open source movement but commercial enterprises want support, training and other back-up facilities that you don’t get without a company to back the product up. In any case, as I have argued before, open source is just another licensing model.
Going back to the company then, it is possible that Liferay is only interested in having a good enough business that it will pay for the lifestyles of those involved (indeed, the company gives a proportion of its profits to charity every month) and that they don’t want to conquer the world. This is a perfectly valid business model and I know lots of companies and senior executives that have no ambitions beyond this. Nevertheless, this is not to say that they should eschew marketing or, at least, briefing analysts. The latter, in particular, is important because it not only helps to get the word out about your products or services, it is also (with some notable exceptions) free. It is, after all, the analyst’s job to be informed and up-to-date about whatever section of the market he or she is working in and that means listening to the little guys as much as the big ones.
Liferay is by no means a new kid on the block. It was founded in 2000 but was originally developed (this is no longer the case, or not exclusively so) as a portal solution for non-profit organisations. Currently the product is in version 3.6.1, which has recently been released. Salient facts are that there are no license fees and you don’t have to pay more for new users or servers or whatever. Similarly, the product (which is J2EE based) is application server agnostic and takes a similar approach to the development of portlets: you can use Eclipse, NetBeans, JBuilder or anything similar, or even lightweight editors. The open source license is based on the MIT model.
So, if you are interested in a portal and like the pure play idea then you could do worse than take a look at Liferay.
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