Modularity, OSGI and the future of the Liferay Open Source Portal

Despite having been built over the years using a more traditional development process, the engineers and architects who drive forward the development process at Liferay are looking at adopting a more modular approach. Will OSGi be the future of the Liferay portal, and if so, what benefits will this bring to customers and consumers alike?

How does an IT solutions firm take an open source web portal platform and turn it into a marketable and profitable product? A look at the press surrounding Liferay provides some answers. Named by InfoWorld as the Best Open Source Portal on the market in 2007, more recent praise came in 2011 when Gartner placed Liferay in the covetedleader square in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Horizontal Portal Products, with Liferay earning this position based on its ability to execute and its completeness of vision. 

Liferay really does have something for everyone. Internal IT staff benefit from the simplicity of managing content through the portal’s easy to use interface. Enterprise clients appreciate the integration and security, while business customers in general appreciate the follow through on ideas like Liferay Marketplace, along with their ability to deliver new features. However, Liferay knows that resting on its laurels is a recipe for obsolescence. Ray Augé, rhymes with OJ, senior software architect with Liferay, met with the editors of TheServerSide and helped to shed some light on how the underlying architecture is changing to keep up with the times.

Enter OSGi – a gateway through the portal

The future of computing is modularity, and it’s no surprise that when postulating about how the software will move forward, the big brains behind the open-source portal are looking to leverage the OSGi framework, hoping it can help to resolve some of the problems a more traditional design elutes. After all, having a solution that can only be developed, updated, and deployed in massive chunks is a turnoff in a market where modularity is the name of the game. Liferay has faced engineering, sales, and release challenges that could be easily addressed if the system was designed with OSGi-esque modularity. Ray says the functionality OSGi brings to the table is one key to “getting Agile” at last.

Benefits of modularity

What are some of the other benefits that OSGi would bring to the table? With a more modular portal product, Liferay will be able to release more frequently, which keeps customers happy in an era when clients are coming to expect a continuous deployment of upgrades. Furthermore, since an OSGi based approach means Liferay system architects and developers can work more independently on individual components, the firm will have the ability to rapidly respond to customer feedback, helping to further improve their products. This includes providing better security than ever and rolling out hot fixes and new features with greater ease. At the same time, it should be stated that Liferay is proceeding prudently to prevent any backwards compatibility issues such as broken APIs or disrupted plugin lifecycles.

A more modular version of the portal will also add value for more sophisticated enterprise customers. Many of these larger organizations don’t necessarily want a turnkey solution. They prefer not to totally entrust their enterprise web portal applications to a third party to develop, implement and maintain. Instead, the idea of being able to customize the product in-house is very attractive. Modularity will provide these high-end clients ‘nuts and bolts’ access to the open-source Liferay portal, empowering them to create their own bespoke versions with greater ease.

Some of the best minds in the industry are employed by Liferay, and they are working hard to push forward the most popular open-source portal on the market. There is no doubt that Liferay will be a key player in the web portal and content management space for years to come.


Follow Cameron McKenzie on Twitter (@potemcam)

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