Liferay: Open Source Portal and Collaboration Software with Style

liferayIf you’re looking for a more complete, customized end-to-end solution than something like Google Apps can offer for your business, you may want to take a look at what Liferay‘s offering. The company offers portal, content management system, and collaboration solutions, all customizable, open source software to fit yours or a client’s specific needs.

It’s designed to require little setup, and aimed at companies with little or no in-house development capability. Out of the box, Liferay offers a number of different pre-set portlet configuration options, including CMS and collaboration. The idea is that you get an easy-to-set up intranet system up and running in no time, with features that can be easily changed, added, and removed without much effort.

picture-4Liferay has a couple nice features that aren’t necessarily offered elsewhere. One is drag-and-drop editing, so that you can shift the arrangement of portal elements without digging around in any code, making otherwise time-consuming changes a snap. In practice, this worked well on the demo site provided by Liferay. Editing my public page, for instance, I could easily change the name of any individual subsection, and drag and drop them as though they were browser windows.

You can also change the look and feel by clicking on icons in the upper right-hand corner of any item displayed on your pages. Anything from choosing your fonts to advanced CSS customization is available, depending on your skill and comfort level with coding.

picture-6Making my own pages was simple. I figured out how to add applications without trouble, and again it’s a drag and drop process, with item arrangement left up to you. Applications can be added from a list of supported plugins, or, conceivably, you could write your own.

I tested Liferay’s own locally hosted demo, available here. While it may not be an indication of how easy or difficult it is to set up on your own server, the demo was very easy to use as an end-user, especially considering that I read no how-to or support documentation beforehand.  I’m considering using it to organize a collaborative writing blog I administrate, since the writers involved are not generally advanced users, and would benefit from the system’s intuitive, pick-up-and-go usability.

Collaboration features include pretty much everything you can think of, including wikis, calendars, message boards, blogs, polls, and integrated IM. Liferay Social Office, which is what they call their collaboration suite, also integrates with Microsoft Office, so that you have the option of working there on your desktop if you don’t feel like signing on to the portal. Sometimes being isolated has its benefits, after all.

Liferay has a small but impressive client list, including World Vision, Lufthansa, Cisco, and the GOP House Republican Conference. Liferay Standard Edition is a free download offered under the MIT Open Source License, and an Enterprise Edition is available for pre-order, which offers more stability and long-term support, plus additional features. The SE is probably sufficient for most uses, unless you’re working on a very large scale with a multi-national corporation.