New SOA Gadget Tool for Enterprise Web Devs

Open source middleware provider WSO2 is billing its new Gadget Server as "a radical departure from traditional portals based on the JSR-168 Java Portlet specification." It might be an overstatement to call it "radical," but the new portal platform is designed to give Web developers an enterprise-level tool for creating gadgets using common Web standards, and non-developers a way to mix and match those gadgets.

The Java Portlet spec has been the essential programming model for Java-based portlet development since version 1.0 was approved by the Java Community Process (JCP) in 2003. It defines the relationship between a portlet, which is a pluggable user interface component that runs in a portal server, and the container that manages it, including the APIs and rules for preferences, user data, portlet requests and responses, packaging, and security. (A JCP expert group is currently considering JSR 286, which defines version 2.0.)

The Java spec brought standards to the process of building portlets, but the process of building large, server-side enterprise portals has remained rigid and complex, said WSO2 co-founder and CTO Paul Fremantle. The enterprise, he said, is ready for a Web-based portal that can be accessed anywhere via a browser.

The Gadget Server can be used to create personalized dashboards that businesspeople can use to access their enterprise SOAs. It's based on the Google Gadget spec (think iGoogle for SOA) and comes with a set of pre-built gadgets. The Google Gadget spec is based on HTML and JavaScript technologies, and it interoperates with both SOAP and REST services.

The WSO2 Gadget Server can be used to create executive dashboards, personalized intranet homepages, customer portals and content aggregation sites, among other applications. Providing business end users with the ability to create a dashboard over a company's core systems, Fremantle said, "is one of the most effective uses of a well-designed SOA."

The Mountain View, Calif.-based WSO2 was founded by members of the Apache Software Foundation's Web services community, and its products are based on Apache technologies. The Gadget Server is built on Apache Shindig, the reference implementation of the Google's Gadget and OpenSocial specifications. OpenSocial is a set of common APIs for Web-based social network apps, which Google developed. Apps implementing OpenSocial APIs can work with any social network. The WSO2 Web Services Application Server (WSAS) is based on Apache Axis2, and the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) is based on Apache Synapse.

The Gadget Server is an open source product available under the Apache License 2.0.

One feature worth a special note in this product is the Gadget Server's ability to accept ratings and comments from non-developer business users, which gives them direct feedback about which gadgets best serve different requirements.

The Gadget Server's launch was synchronized with the release of Business Activity Monitor, which is designed to provide real-time visibility into SOA processes, transactions and workflows. The BAM product uses the portal capabilities to provide a customizable user interface, the company said.

Fremantle added that these two presentation-layer products are intended to complete the company's SOA platform, which he characterized as a "lean" software alternative to traditional platforms from Oracle and IBM. ("Lean" software, the name implies, is less complex and easier to integrate into heterogeneous SOAs.)

Both the BAM and Gadget Server are based on the WSO2's Carbon componentized SOA platform (as are its other middleware products), which uses the OSGi framework to provide a flexible, modular architecture. The OSGi (Open Services Gateway Initiative) is a specification that defines an architecture for developing and deploying modular applications and libraries.

The value of the Carbon platform, said Forrester senior analyst Jeffrey S. Hammond, is that it taps into the growing developer frustration with bloatware. "A modular framework allows my team to configure the runtime with only the components I want for the application I'm building," he said. "If I need a hammer, I configure a hammer; if I need a sledgehammer, I configure a sledgehammer."

The WSO2 Gadget Server is available now for download, and also as a WSO2 Cloud Virtual Machine running. The VM can run on the Amazon Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) or VMware's ESX hypervisor. As an Apache License 2.0 licensed product, the Gadget Server is available with no licensing fees. WSO2 offers additional fee-based services and support options.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].