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InfoQ Homepage News eXoweb Portal and ECM 2.0 Moving towards WebOS

eXoweb Portal and ECM 2.0 Moving towards WebOS


The eXo Platform recently announced new versions of their Portal and ECM products at JavaPolis. InfoQ sat down with Benjamin Mestrallet of eXo Platform to talk about the new products. eXo is targetting the products to simulate a web operating system that fits enterprise needs.

First we asked Mestrallet to recap the new functionality in the 2.0 versions, which are currently in alpha release:

The new versions are 100% AJAX based and come with a new set of skins and layouts including a desktop-like UI as you can see on those Flickr screenshots. That desktop-like UI is very similar with what users are used to when they work on windows or Mac OS X which makes it much easier for them to use. On the application side, we have ported all the existing functionalities of eXo Portal (dynamic layout, communities, fine grained security) and eXo ECM (Taxonomies, Folksonomies, Locking, Versioning, Records Management, Notifications, Validation Workflows and Web Content Management). Of course usual web site layouts are still supported, especially for front offices and corporate web sites.

Mestrallet then discussed how they have leveraged AJAX in the new releases:

If you look at the Portal early ages, existing applications like MyYahoo were already trying to reproduce OS behavior thanks to portlets window states (minimized or maximized). In fact that was probably more to tell the user that the content is an application to interact with. Current personal pages like NetVibes are also in that trend and introduce more interaction with the user but that is just a transition phase to a full OS environment inside the browser. Thanks to AJAX and a strong server side platform, we can now achieve that move that started almost a decade ago. Our new portal configuration menus and wizards are much more responsive even when using poor internet connections. We can provide a new type of virtualization a kind of light Citrix application.

The conversation then moved to their focus on making the environment as close to a desktop UI as possible.

A portal is responsible for aggregating integrated content located in portlets inside a page and to return it to the browser. In web 1.0 portals, a click on a link inside a portlet would imply to render all the other portlets included in the page. Thanks to AJAX, it is now possible to just render the fragment we want and not only in the portlet as we have also enabled AJAX for the entire portal and especially in the configuration part. Our use of AJAX is quite common and we use the XHR to then modify a part of the DOM, we have just used it at the core and extensively to make the first 100% based portal out there. But AJAX is just a part of making a desktop-like UI and perfect use of javascript, css, html and web design is even more important especially when you want to support dynamic skin swap like we do with the 3 default themes (eXo, Mac and Vista).

Mestrallet on their File Explorer for ECM:

The main difference from versions 1.x and 2.x of eXo Portal and ECM comes from the development process and the industrialization we were able to introduce when producing the UI. In the first version java developers were also responsible of creating the web design and ergonomic, I was one of those. This is not the case anymore and we have three different teams: one for producing the photoshop web design and story board; one to convert it to HTML, Javascript and css and one to implement the java business logic. The result of it is great, the web designed improved, the ergonomics too and the overall productivity. In the case of the File Explorer we already knew the features we wanted to upgrade (drives management, customized views, menu views a bit à la Ribbon bar...) and based on that we asked the design team to produce a story board on it. They came back to us with a set of screenshots that were very similar to windows file explorer but with our features integrated in. Of course there is an interaction between the teams and for technical reasons the javascript producer may ask the web designer to rework on the board but all is smooth and efficient. Hence involving people with different background and experience (even users if you can) is absolutely necessary when it comes to UI design for web applications.

Finally we talked about the release plan and how stable the alpha release is:

Our alphas were very close to betas (that we will release in february) so most of the features were already there apart the WCM and Workflow ones in ECM 2.0 (we introduce them in the beta). Of course there were bugs but we spent the end of december and january to fix them and the current SVN is stable. We will start to introduce new features in 2.1 versions only and will provide new products such as eXo Groupware and BI working on the desktop-like UI as soon as possible.

InfoQ covered the 1.0 release of ECM in July

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