Red Hat has released version 5.0 of its portal software, the JBoss Enterprise Portal Platform, the company announced Thursday at its Red Hat Summit in Boston. Among the improvements from version 4.3, the last major version of the open source portal software, is a revamped user interface and an improved way of loading portal pages with all manner of widgets, portlets, gadgets and other small programs, said Craig Muzilla, Red Hat vice president and general manager for middleware.

A partnership with open source content management system provider eXo is crucial to the update, he said. "We built a developer-centric portal engine, but they contributed the content management capabilities and user interface," he said.

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The ability to easily import widgets from a wide variety of sources, such as from the Internet or from other portal repositories, is one of the chief new capabilities of the portal. A department's external or internal portal page can include applications such as stock tickers, calendar messages, weather reports, search boxes or anything else that would be of use for users of the portal.

While the previous version of the portal could use widgets and other types of portlets, integrating them required the skills of a developer, Muzilla said. The new version allows an administrator to populate a portal page by merely pulling widgets from a menu.

Thanks to the JBoss Portlet Bridge software, the portal can use programs written not only in the Java Enterprise Edition, but also with the Spring Framework, the Google Web Toolkit, Ruby or PHP.

A French company, eXo is also providing the software for what Red Hat calls the JBoss Enterprise Portal Platform Site Publisher, a content-management system that Red Hat has made available as a technical preview.

Muzilla said Red Hat chose eXo over other aspiring open source content management programs such as Drupal because its ability to work with "sophisticated highly transaction environments," he said.

JBoss Enterprise Portal Platform 5.0 is actually a set of portal capabilities run by the JBoss Enterprise Application Platform (EAP). EAP is included with the platform software package. Muzilla would not reveal the number of paid users of the portal software, only saying that it is typically about 15 percent to 25 percent of the users of EAP. The process of upgrading from version 4.3 to 5.0 should be a fairly straightforward one, he said.

Red Hat's timing for releasing this software is fortuitous, said Paul Daugherty, who is the managing director, of advanced systems and technology for consulting firm Accenture. In an interview with IDG News Service, he noted that many of his company's clients already run portals, though the clients are looking to revamp these portals with web 2.0 capabilities.

Daugherty praised two aspects of the new portal software. One is the ability for the organisation to tie it in with other JBoss-based processes, such as business process management. Organisations want to simplify their infrastructure so if they are already running JBoss, using this portal software can reduce the burden of running a separate application server just for the portal. He also praised the software's ability to bring Web 2.0 capabilities to users.