DataChannel Server 4.0
Data-Channel Server 4.0 is heavily reliant on eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Effective use of XML and of Java makes the software (and the resulting portal) portal highly flexible (and extensible) but means that specialist knowledge is required for configuration.
The result of this combination of technologies is that Data Channel Server should adapt well to future needs and, importantly, should easily integrate with third-party data sources.
The portal handles structured data well, but unstructured data less well. It can integrate with almost any back-end data delivery but additional scripting is needed in almost every case.
DataChannel uses Excalibur Technologies' RetrievalWare to index file directories and Web sites (though other search engines can be used). This one could be better integrated into DataChannel: indexing content may need recourse to a command-line interface.
Authentication is very well handled - the server easily synchronises with Windows NT and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) directories. Using group-based roles, it is fairly simple to define access rights based on folder and file permissions.
Along with the standard personalisation options for configuring a user's portal page, the DataChannel Server includes basic email and portal page notification for content additions. Users can easily add content to the portal through a browser-based interface. DataChannel's use of Inso's Outside In Server delivers superior data-handling capabilities and allows it to handle conversion of various file types within the portal.
The DataChannel Server is priced in US dollars from $100,000 for 250 named users. The server is supported on Windows NT and Sun Solaris operating systems.
iPlanet Portal Server 3.0
The Sun-Netscape Alliance's iPlanet Portal Server, provides extended features for those willing to exploit them, and strong administration features for managing multiple portals. However, the product functions more as a platform than as an application.
iPlanet Portal Server has excellent support for diverse authentication schemes and makes good use of LDAP directories for data access. The software also has strong hooks into back-end data sources and third-party applications, and includes a built-in Citrix client that provides remote access to applications within the portal.
Although the iPlanet server is very extensible and has very strong data and application integration, it surprisingly lacks many of the features one might expect from such software - features such as Web indexing and collaborative filtering (that Netscape pioneered in its Catalog Server and Compass Server products). According to iPlanet, such features are 'on their way'.
The product provides good control over access to content and can track users and disconnect them from the portal. Although most of the content on the portal is straight Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), the server makes heavy use of Java in its integral engine and uses Java for a feature called Netlets, which power a variety of end-user applications.
Good personalisation features let users select content and control the layout of their pages. The iPlanet Portal Server is extremely configurable and can be easily converted into other languages. The server can be extended through Java application program interfaces (APIs) and an available XML interface. The product's excellent browser-based management features make it possible to easily manage multiple portals from a single interface.
The iPlanet Portal Server runs only on Solaris, although iPlanet plans to port it to other operating systems in the future. Pricing for fully open access is $25,000 per server CPU. Secure portals start at $90,000 per CPU, with a minimum outlay of two CPUs.
Plumtree Corporate Portal 3.5
Plumtree's Corporate Portal 3.5, is heavily reliant on Windows NT and Microsoft's Active Server Pages technology, but can benefit companies looking for a quick portal solution with a minimum of initial customisation. (Not surprisingly, products that make the least use of open standards are the most likely to offer a quick and complete, or nearly complete, portal solution. However, this reliance on NT and ASP limits the flexibility of the product.)
Plumtree has been in the corporate information portal business longer than any other company except perhaps Netscape and Verity, and offers a very polished application. Organisations looking for a quick portal solution with a minimum of initial customisation should investigate the Corporate Portal 3.5 platform.
Plumtree's Web site and file directory search and index capabilities are based on the Verity search engine. The Plumtree portal provides a very good management interface for controlling indexes and Web crawls. Administrators can easily update indexes and filter content to fit portal categories. The Plumtree server also has excellent integration into multiple back-end data sources. This capability, as well as many application components for users, is based on Plumtree's 'Gadget' technology. Gadgets are small ASP-based applications that can easily be built by Web site developers.
The Plumtree portal has solid personalisation features, letting users customise content and layout, and choose Gadgets to run on their personal pages. Users can submit a variety of content for inclusion in the portal, following a process of 'content approval'.. The Plumtree Corporate Portal can directly import users from an NT Domain, but it will not support LDAP until the next release, due later this year.
Business-to-employee pricing starts at $75,000 for 250 named users. Business-to-business pricing starts at $50,000 per CPU, with a four-server minimum.
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