Oh No, Not Another Web Portal

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-11-02

Oh No, Not Another Web Portal

Hands up, everyone who remembers when portals were the be-all and end-all of Web development.

Just what I thought, pretty much everyone who was around in the late 1990s and early 2000, aka the days of the Internet bubble.

Here it is, 2005, and what do I see?

Why, its Microsoft trying to revive that tired, old concept yet again in its Business Portal Lite.

In this new version of the old idea, we see a Web-based, thin-client interface which connects browsers with Microsoft Business Solutions Portal server and the Solomon ERP (enterprise resource planning) system.

The "news" hook this time is that its semi-open-source. The code, which comes from the Microsoft Business Solutions Solomon team, and the portal itself is under Microsofts new shared-source, Microsoft Permissive License.

Click here to read more about Microsoft slashing its shared source licenses.

Excuse me as I yawn.

The Business Portal Lite code is just non-browser specific portal code.

There must be thousands of examples of this kind of code lying around some of it dating back to the Net bubble days.

Theres the original portal code, which tended to be written in HTML/CGI (Common Gateway Interface) code, the later stuff that was written in PERL, JavaScript, Microsofts own ASP (Active Server Pages) and on and on.

Lately, LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP/Python) and AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript), have become the languages of choice for this kind of thing.

In short, theres really nothing new here as far as the code goes, and the fact that its under a shared license is really pretty pointless.

Now, what is interesting is that its Microsoft getting its toes wet in an ASP (application service provider) model.

On top of that, Microsoft isnt just embracing a thin-client, Web-based model; its getting busy with a non-browser specific Web-based application.

Next Page: More monster stories.

More Monster Stories

If youve been reading some of what eWEEK.coms competition has been writing about recent Microsoft developments, you may be under the illusion that "Windows Live" are in some way first steps to Microsoft offering Web-based applications.


As my buddy Mary Jo Foley points out, all that stuff is more about rebranding MSN and trying to bring HailStorm (aka .Net my services) back to life.

And here I thought Halloween and Frankenstein monster stories were over for the year. Silly me.

But Business Portal Lite really is an attempt to get into the business ASP territory that Salesforce.com has proven can be profitable.

Will it work? Frankly, Ive never been crazy about this approach.

My concerns with any thin-client/ASP approach are 1) security, can you trust your data is safe with your host? Can you trust that it wont be compromised during its transmission? 2) Stability, if the server or the Internet connection goes down, your work goes with it. And, 3) Speed, no matter how fast your broadband connection is, its never as fast as the connection between my display and my hard drive or my Fast Ethernet-connected network drives.

These arent Microsoft issues. I have these issues with any ASP/thin-client set up.

Unfortunately, for Microsoft, if the new Windows Live portal is anything like Windows Live, it doesnt work well with any browser; no, not even Internet Explorer.

If you go over and visit Windows Live, youll find that it breaks rather easily under IE 6 and IE 7 Beta 1.

The site also says that "Firefox support is coming soon." Well, theyre right, Firefox doesnt work either. Nor does Safari, Mozilla, Opera ... you get the idea.

In particular, try making a search, then read an article found in that search. Done? OK, now trying going back to the search results page with the back-arrow key.

See what I mean? Youre back at the search page, and your results are gone.

That was clever.

Microsoft can share this code all it likes; goodness knows it needs help.

And, if Microsoft plans to run ERP on this same technology ... well, lets just say that losing a search is annoying, losing expense reports would be cause to throw Business Portal Lite into the trash heap with all the other portals.

Ziff Davis Internet Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Rocket Fuel