Liferay Portal Enterprise Intranets

By Jonas X. Yuan
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  1. Introducing Liferay for Your Intranet

About this book

Liferay Portal is the world's leading open-source portal platform built on Java and Web 2.0 technologies. Corporations use it to provide a unified web interface to data and tools scattered across many sources.
Liferay Portal uses the latest in Java, J2EE, and Web 2.0 technologies to deliver solutions for enterprises across both public and private sectors. Liferay Portal's flexibility allows it to be deployed in a number of different scenarios to meet key business needs. Some of the key business benefits are:

  • A rich, friendly, intuitive, and collaborative end-user experience
  • A single point of access to all information
  • High adaptability to the demands of fast changing markets
  • Highest value
  • Lowest costs

This book is a complete guide to building an intranet with Liferay (version 4.4)—assess your needs, install the software, start using it, deploy portlets, customize it per your requirements, and train users. The book focuses on leveraging the Liferay framework by configuring the XML files, without changing the underlying Java code. Each chapter gives practical guidance on how to install, use, and customize Liferay. There are many step-by-step examples for better understanding.

Publication date:
April 2008
Publisher
Packt
Pages
408
ISBN
9781847192721

 

Chapter 1. Introducing Liferay for Your Intranet

This book will show you how to create a company Intranet with Liferay. In this chapter, we will look at:

  • The features your Intranet will have by the time you reach the end of the book.

  • Why Liferay is an excellent choice for building your Intranet.

  • Some of the other things people are using Liferay for, besides Intranets.

  • How to find more technical information about what Liferay is, and how it works.

So let's begin by looking at exactly which site we're going to build in the book.

 

What Are We Going to Build?


Over the course of this book, we’re going to build a complete corporate Intranet using Liferay. Let’s discuss some of the features your Intranet will have.

Hosted Discussions

Are you still using email for group discussions? Then it’s time you found a better way. Running group discussions over email clogs up the team’s inbox. Also, you have to choose your distribution list in advance, and it is hard for team members to ‘opt in and out’ of the discussion.

Using Liferay, we will build a range of discussion boards for discussion within and between teams. The discussions are archived in one place. So it’s always possible to go back and refer to them later.

Furthermore, it’s just more convenient to move an email discussion to a discussion forum designed for the purpose. Once the forum is in place, you will find that a more productive group discussion takes place than it ever did over email.

Collaborative Documents Using Wikis

Your company probably has guideline documents that should be updated regularly. But, they swiftly lose their relevance as practices and procedures change. Worse, each of your staff will know useful, productive tricks and techniques—but there’s probably no easy way to record that knowledge in a way that is easy for others to find and use.

We will see how to host ‘wikis’ within Liferay. A wiki enables anybody to create and edit web pages, and link all of those web pages together. You can put your ‘guideline’ documents into a wiki, and as practices change, your frontline staff can quickly and effortlessly update the guideline documentation.

Wikis can also act as a shared notebook, enabling team members to collaborate and share both ideas and findings, and also work together on documents.

Team And Individual Blogs

Your company probably needs frequent, chronological publications of personal thoughts and Web links in the Intranet. In more detail, your company probably has teams and individual works on specific projects in order to share files and Blogs about project processes, and furthermore use HTML text editor to create or update files and Blogs, and provide RSS feeds.

We will see how teams and individuals share files and Blogs within Liferay. Blogs provide a straightforward Blogging solution with a lot of features such as RSS support, comments, categories, tags, labels, rating, and so on. Liferay RSS with subscription provides the ability to frequently read RSS feeds from within the portal framework.

At the same time, WYSIWGs (What You See Is What You Get editors) provides the ability to edit web content, including Blog content. Less technical persons can use WYSIWGs without sifting through complex code.

Shared Calendars

Your company may be required to provide and share calendar information among users from different departments. At the same time, it may be required to provide workflow ability so that normal users can submit requests, and the manager can take decisions on these requests. Moreover, it may also be required to publish third party contents in the intranet website.

We will see how to share a calendar within Liferay. Shared Calendar can satisfy basic business requirements incorporated in a featured business intranet such as scheduling meetings, sending meeting invitations, checking for attendees’ availability and so on. Thus, you can provide an environment for users to manage events and share calendars.

In addition, you can also use workflows to manage workflow definitions, instances, and tasks. Furthermore, you can also employ WSRP proxy effectively, and other portlets such as web proxy, IFrame and flash smoothly. These portlets provide ability to publish third party contents in the intranet website.

Document Stores

You company may have a lot of images and documents, and you may need to manage all images and documents as well. Thus, you require the ability to manage a lot of web content and also publish web contents in the intranet.

We will see how to manage and publish web contents within Liferay. Liferay Journal does not only provide high availability to publish, manage, and maintain web content and documents, but it also separates content from layout.

In addition, within Image Gallery, you can add folders and sub folders for images, can manage folders and sub folders, add images in folders and manage images, can set up permission on folders and images. Within Document Library, you can add folders and sub folders for documents, and manage documents, and also publish documents.

And More...!

The Intranet will also arrange staff members into teams and communities, provide a way for real-time IM and chat, and give each user an appropriate level of ‘access’—implying that they get access to all the information they need, edit and add content as necessary, but can’t meddle with sensitive information that they have no reason to see.

Everything in One Place

All these features are useful on their own. But it gets better when you consider that all these features will combine in one, easy-to-use, searchable portal.

A user of the Intranet, for example, can search for a topic—say ‘financial report’—and can find in one go:

  • Any group discussions about financial reports

  • Blog entries within the intranet concerning financial reports

  • Documents and files—the financial reports themselves, perhaps

  • Wiki entries with guidelines on preparing financial reports

  • Calendar entries for meetings to discuss the financial report

Of course, users can also restrict their search to just one area, if they already know exactly what they are looking for.

Liferay provides other features, such as tagging, to make it easier to organize information across the whole Intranet. We will do all of this and more over the course of the book.

 

Introducing Palm Tree Publications


In this book we are going to build an example Intranet for a fictions company. By applying the instructions to your own business, you will be able to build an Intranet to meet your own company’s needs.

Palm Tree Publications needs an Intranet of its own, which we will call book.com.

The enterprise’s global headquarters is in the United States. It has several departments: editorial, website, engineering, marketing, executive and human resources.

Each department has staff either in the United States, or in Germany, or both.

The intranet site provides a community called “Book Lovers”, consisting of users who have an interest in reading books. The enterprise needs to integrate collaboration tools such as Wikis, Blogs, discussion forms, instant messaging, mail, RSS, shared calendars, tagging, and so on.

Palm Tree Publications has some more advanced needs too: a workflow to edit, approve and publish books. Furthermore, the enterprise has a lot of contents such as books stored and managed in Alfresco, currently. Now, it wants to publish the contents of Alfresco in the Intranet website.

In order to build the intranet site, the following functionalities should be considered:

  • Installing the portal, experiencing the portal and portlets, customizing personal web pages.

  • Bringing users to the portal—enabling document sharing, calendar sharing, and other collaboration within a business.

  • Discussion forums—Employees discuss book idea and proposals.

  • Wikis—keeping track of information about editorial guidance and other resources that require frequent editing.

  • Distribution of knowledge via Blogs—small teams working on specific projects share files and Blogs about project process.

  • Sharing calendar among employees and using workflow to manage (edit, approve, publish) pages within web contents among employees.

  • Document repository—using effective content management systems (CMS), a natural fit for a portal for secure access, permissions, and distinct roles (writer, editor, designer, administrator).

  • Collaborative chat and Instant Messaging.

  • Managing a community named “Book Lovers”, which consists of users who have similar interests in reading books.

  • Federated search for Discussion forum entries, Blog posts, Wiki articles, users at Directory, and contents at both Document Library and Alfresco, Search by tags and so on.

  • Integrating back-of-the-house software applications, such as Alfresco, Orbeon Forms, and BI/Reporting Pentaho, strong authentication and authorization with LDAP, single-authentication to access various company sites besides the Intranet site.

The enterprise may have the following groups of people:

  • Admin:Installs Systems, Manages Membership, Users, User Groups, Organizations, Roles and Permissions, Security on resources, Workflow, servers and instances, and Integrates with third-party systems.

  • Executives:Executive Management handles approvals.

  • Marketing:Handles Web Site, Company Brochures, Marketing Campaign, Projects, and Digital Assets.

  • Sales:Presentations, Contracts, Documents and Reports.

  • Website Editors:Manage pages of the intranet; Write articles, Review articles, Design layout of articles, Publish articles.

  • Book Editors:Write books, Review books, and Publish books.

  • Human Resources:Manages Corporate Policy Documents.

  • Finance:Manages Account Documents, Scanned Invoices and Checks, Notifications.

  • Corporate Communications:Manages External Public Relations, Internal News Releases, and Syndication.

  • Engineering:Sets up development environment, collaborates on Engineering Projects and Presentation Templates.

 

Why Use Liferay To Build An Intranet?


Of course, there are lots of ways to build a company Intranet. What makes Liferay such a good choice?

It’s Got The Features We Need

All the features we have outlined for our Intranet come built into Liferay; discussions, wikis, calendars, blogs and so on, are part of what Liferay is designed to do.

It is also designed to tie all these features together into one searchable ‘portal’. So, we won’t be dealing with lots of separate components when we build and use our Intranet. All parts will work together.

It’s Easy To Set up and Use

Liferay has an intuitive interface that uses icons, clear labels, drag and drop to make it easy to configure and use for the Intranet.

Setting up the Intranet will require a bit more work than using it, of course. But you will be pleasantly surprised by how simple it is—no programming is required to get your Intranet up and running.

It’s Free And Open Source

How much does Liferay cost? Nothing! It’s a free, open source tool.

This means that you can go to Liferay’s web site, and download it without paying anything. You can then go ahead, install it, and use it.

The Liferay company makes its money by providing additional services, including training. But the standard use of Liferay is completely free. Now that you’ve bought this book, you probably won’t have to pay another penny to get your Intranet working.

Being open source means that the program code that makes Liferay work is available for anybody to look at and change. Even if you’re not a programmer, this is still good for you:

  • If you need Liferay to do something new, then you can hire a programmer to modify Liferay so that it does this new thing.

  • There are a lot of developers studying the source code, looking for ways to make it better. A lot of improvements get incorporated into Liferay’s main code.

  • Developers are always working to create ‘plugins’—programs that work together with Liferay to add new features.

Probably for now, the big deal here is that it costs zero dollars. But as you use Liferay more, you will come to understand the other benefits of Open Source for you.

It Will Grow with You

Liferay is designed in a way so that it can work with thousands and thousands of users at once. No matter how big your business is, or how much it grows, Liferay will still work and handle all of the information you throw at it.

It also has features especially suited for large international businesses. Opening offices up in non-English speaking countries? No problem! Liferay has internationalization features tailored to suit many of the world’s popular languages.

It Works with Other Tools

Liferay is designed to work with other software tools, ones that you’re already using, and ones that you might use in the future. For example:

  • You can hook Liferay up to your LDAP directory server so that users’ details and login credentials are added to Liferay automatically.

  • Liferay can work with Alfresco, a popular and powerful Enterprise CMS system (used to provide extremely advance document management capabilities—far beyond what Liferay does on its own).

It Is Based on “Standards”

This is a more technical benefit, but a very useful one, if you ever want to use Liferay in a more specialized way.

Liferay is based on standard technologies that are popular with developers and other IT experts. These include:

  • Built using Java—a very popular programming language that can run on just about any computer. There are millions of Java programmers in the world. So it won’t be too hard to find developers who can customize Liferay.

  • Based on tried and tested components.With any tool, there’s a danger of bugs. Liferay uses lots of well known, widely tested components to minimize the likelihood of bugs creeping in. If you are interested, here are some of the well known components and technologies Liferay uses: Apache ServiceMix, Mule, Ehcache, Hibernate, ICEfaces, Java J2EE/JEE, jBPM, Intalio|BPMS, JGroups, jQuery, Lucene, PHP, Ruby, Seam, Spring and AOP, Struts and Tiles, Tapestry, Velocity, and FreeMarker.

  • Uses standard ways to communicate with other software.There are various standards established for sharing data between pieces of software. Liferay uses these so that you can easily put information from Liferay into other systems. The standards implemented by Liferay include: AJAX, iCalendar and Micro-format, JSR-168, JSR-127, JSR-170, JSR-286 (Portlet 2.0) and JSF-314 (JSF 2.0) in the future roadmap, OpenSearch, Open platform with support for web services (including: JSON, Hessian, Burlap, REST, RMI, WSRP), and WebDAV.

Many of these standards are things that you will never need to know much about. So don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them. Liferay is better for using them, but mostly you won’t even know that they are there.

 

What Else Can Liferay Do?


Liferay isn’t just for Intranets! Users and developers are building all kinds of different web sites and systems based on Liferay.

Corporate Extranets

An Intranet is great for collaboration and information sharing within a company. An Extranet extends this facility to suppliers and customers, who usually log in over the Internet.

In many ways, this is similar to an Intranet—there are few technical differences. The main difference is that you create user accounts for people who are not part of your company.

Collaborative Websites

Collaborative websites not only provide a secure and administrated framework, but also empower users with collaborative tools such as Blogs, instant email, message boards, instant messaging, shared calendar, and so on. Moreover, it encourages users to use other tools such as tags administration, fine-grained permissions, delegable administrator privileges, enterprise taxonomy, and ad-hoc user groups. By these tools, as an administrator, you can ultimately control what people can do and cannot do in Liferay.

In many ways, this is similar to an Intranet—there are few technical differences. The main difference is that you use collaborative tools such as Blogs, instant email, message boards, instant messaging, shared calendar, and so on.

Content Management & Web Publishing

You can also use Liferay to run your public company web site with content management and web publishing.

Content management and web publishing are useful in websites. It is a fact that the volume of digital content for any organization is increasing on a daily basis. Thus, an effective content management system (CMS) is a vital part of any organization. Meanwhile, document management is also useful and more effective when repositories have to be assigned to different departments and groups within the organization.

Content management and document management are effective in Liferay. Moreover, while managing and publishing contents, we may have to answer many questions, such as “who should be able to update and delete a document from the system”. Fortunately, Liferay security and permission model can satisfy the needs for secure access and permissions, and distinct roles (for example, writer, editor, designer, and administrator). Furthermore, Liferay integrates with the workflow engine. Thus, users can follow a flow to edit, approve and publish contents in the website.

Content Management and Web Publishing are also similar to an Intranet—there are few technical differences. The main difference is that you can manage content and publish web contents smoothly.

Infrastructure Portals

Infrastructure portals integrate all possible functions stated above. It covers collaboration and information sharing within a company, collaborative tools, content management and web publishing. In the infrastructure portals, users can create a unified interface to work with contents, regardless of source via Content Interaction API. Furthermore, using the same API and the same interface as well as that of built-in content management system (CMS), users can also manage content and publish web contents from third-party systems such as Alfresco, Vignette, Magnolia, or Microsoft Share-Point, and so on.

Infrastructure portals are similar to an Intranet—there are a few technical differences. The main difference is that you can use collaborative tools, manage content, publish web contents and integrate other systems in one place.

Why do you need a portal? The main reason is that a portal can be served as a framework to aggregate content and applications. A portal normally provides a secure and manageable framework, where users can easily make new and existing enterprise applications available. In order to build an infrastructure portal smoothly, Liferay portal provides SOA-based framework to integrate third party systems.

 

Finding More Information


In this chapter, we have looked at what Liferay can do for your corporate Intranet, and briefly seen why it’s a good choice.

If you want more background information on Liferay, the best place to start is the Liferay corporate web site (http://www.liferay.com) itself. You can find the latest news and events, various training programs offered world wide, presentations, demonstrations and hosted trails. More interestingly, Liferay corporate web site plus Forums and Blogs is built by the Liferay Portal itself. It is a real demo of the Liferay Portal.

Note

The Liferay site uses MediaWiki for its wiki and Atlassian JIRA for its issue tracking. That is, the Liferay site does not use its own Wiki system.

Liferay is 100% open source and all downloads are available from sourceforge.net website at http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=49260.

Liferay site Wiki (http://wiki.liferay.com) contains documentation such as tutorial, user guide, developer guide, administrator guide, roadmap and so on.

Liferay discussion forums (http://www.liferay.com/web/guest/community/forums), Blogs (http://www.liferay.com/web/guest/community/blog), Road Map (http://www.liferay.com/web/guest/community/road_map) and Community Plugins (http://www.liferay.com/web/guest/community/community_plugins) are the best places to share your thoughts, to get tips and tricks about Liferay implementation, to know road map, and to use and contribute community plugins.

If you would like to file a bug or know more details about the fixes in a specific release, you must visit the bug tracking system at http://support.liferay.com.

 

Summary


In this chapter, we have looked at what Liferay can offer your Intranet. In particular, we saw:

  • That our final intranet will provide shared documents, discussions, collaborative wikis and more in a single, searchable portal.

  • That Liferay makes a great choice for the Intranet, because it provides so many features; it’s easy to use, it’s free and open source, is extensible and is well integrated with other tools and standards.

  • Other kinds of site that Liferay is good for: extranets, collaborative web sites, content management and web publishing, and infrastructure portals.

  • The various pages on Liferay.com that can provide us with more background information.

In the next chapter, we’re going to install Liferay and start the hands-on task of building the Intranet.

About the Author

  • Jonas X. Yuan

    Jonas X. Yuan is a Chief Architect of ForgeLife LLC and an expert on Liferay Portal, e-commerce, and Content Management Systems (CMS). As an open source community contributor, he has published five Liferay books from 2008 to 2012. He is also an expert on Liferay integration with Ad Server OpenX, different search engines, enterprise content including videos, audio, images, documents, and web contents, and other technologies, such as BPM Intalio and Business Intelligence Pentaho, LDAP, and SSO. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Zurich, where he focused on Integrity Control in federated database systems. He earned his M.S. and B.S. degrees from China, where he conducted research on expert systems for predicting landslides. Previously, he worked as a Project Manager and a Technical Architect in Web GIS (Geographic Information System). He is experienced in Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC) and has deep, hands-on skills in J2EE technologies. He developed a BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) engine called BPELPower from scratch at the NASA data center. As the chief architect, Dr. Yuan successfully led and launched several large-scale Liferay/Alfresco e-commerce projects for millions of users each month. He has worked on the following books: Liferay Portal Enterprise Intranets, 2008; Liferay Portal 5.2 Systems Development, 2009; Liferay Portal 6 Enterprise Intranets, 2010; Liferay User Interface Development, 2010; Liferay Portal Systems Development, 2012.

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