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1 Definition

Portalware is software to create various kinds of portals through a relatively simple and installation/configuration process. Portals are a kind of web application.

Daniel K. Schneider thinks that typical portalware for educational use can be installed in an hour and be used after an extra hour of configuration work. Fine tuning may require an extra week of work (or more if the software doesn't work as advertised). In any case, we clearly want to make a distinction between portalware and toolkits to build portals (web application frameworks).

New generation portalware is increasingly easy to use (not to administer), see rich internet applications. However, installing, configuring, tayloring and administering portalware still requires some basic IT skills (and that can be learned in a few weeks). An increasingly interesting alterntive for creating web sites is creating websites with online services.

2 Principle

Portalware is a kind of server software that is usually installed within a webserver / database / scripting language combo, e.g. LAMP and that allows to run a portal of various kinds, e.g. a CMS, a Wiki, a learning platform.

Portalware should not be confused with so-called web application frameworks, i.e. software stacks that are used to build portalware, rich internet applications, etc. However, the boundary between an application framework and a portalware is not clear cut and there exist many "in between" applications/framworks. In particular, between lower level application frameworks and ready-to-go content management systems one could position Content Management Frameworks (CMFs), defined by Wikipedia as an application programming interface for creating a customized content management system (CMS). Drupal (1/2010) defines a “"content management framework" (CMF) [...] as geared more towards configurability and customization. Picture a range of measurement where one end of the scale is labeled “specific” and the other end “abstract”. On the “specific” end of the spectrum, you would have something whose form is very specialized because it’s meant for a specific purpose—like, say, a hammer. On the other end of the spectrum, you would have something much more abstracted, that is available to be configured any way you like, for a variety of purposes—like some wood and a chunk of steel. You could make a hammer, or any number of other things with the wood and steel.”.

Most CMS projects at some seem to evolve towards CMF functionality ...

3 List of portalware

(incomplete, used in education ....)

3.1 Small Content management systems

We refer to content management systems in the more narrow sense, i.e. systems specifically designed to edit contents through a "structured" interface, contents that must fit designed templates, information that is more organized than just lists (like in blogs, or news engines).

Popular open source systems
Big systems
  • An example would be Vignette (Wikipedia article). These usually cost over 10K and require rather substantial development investment.

3.2 Free small opensource portals (CMS/CMF)

We call most of these C3MS (since they allow to manage content, communities and collaboration). In terms of pure CMS functionality, most are rather weak. Below is a list of popular open source software. Most systems can be used out of the box to publish articles in blog-like fashion and as Content Management Framework (adding custom contents through various ways).

News engines
Popular php/mysql workhorses from the late 1990's (both CMS and framework)

These are somewhat older projects and data back to the last millenium. Most systems include hundreds of modules (and each a few dozen high quality ones). Not very easy to administer (maybe a week's worth of effort for a person with basic IT and reading skills to get a portal with standard functionality going and about 2/3 month for programming a simple extension).

  • Drupal (drupal home page): PHP & MySQL/PostgreSQL/SQL server. Probably the best bet for educators currently (2008)
  • Joomla: Popular fork of mambo server. PHP and MySQL. A good bet since this system is very popular and well documented. (on 1/2010, best rated on opensourcecms.com).
  • Mambo Server: PHP and MySQL
  • phpnuke: PHP - one of the oldest systems. Still alive but we don't recommend it for various reasons (security, ease of use, commercialism).
  • plone: Python/Zope based, powerful but rather difficult to administer.
  • Postnuke: PHP & MySQL - PostNuke didn't manage to crank out new good versions in the last few years until 2009. It was renamed Zikula in 2008. Seems to catch up now (1/2010).
More recent and probable simpler systems (2010+)

This generation may include easier administration and user interfaces (AJAX), added templating flexibility, etc.

Complex blogs

These are mainly powerful blogging engins but include other modules. See also the blog article.


3.3 Big portals

  • uPortal A kind of enterprise portal made for education
  • Jahia Integrated Enterprise Content & Portal Management software. Adopted by some Swiss educational institutions.

3.4 "Web 2.0" systems

Not sure what that web 2.0 means, but we usually mean a subset of social software and integrators like webtops. It also relates to things like the virtual office (aka office 2.0), etc. Most well known systems are:

3.5 Special purpose portwalware for education

Many portals designed for education (both e-learning and blended designs) do have CMS components, in particular an authoring tool to edit educational materials. Please consult the following entries:

These types of systems are the only ones used in education, you may use all kinds of portalware, in particular in more constructivist designs like project-oriented learning or writing-to-learn it is often better to use tools made for non-educational purposes.

There exist also some specially packaged CMS systems for education, e.g.

3.6 Educational frameworks

(something in between educationl portalware and web application frameworks

4 Security

I have been using portalware for long years now and I never met any php/mysql based application that was totally safe. Sometimes the central engine is usafe (e.g. we had problems with Dokeos or PostNuke) or installed extensions are - Daniel K. Schneider

To prevent hacking, spamming, defacing etc.

  • Upgrade frequently (each time an upgrade is out)
  • Register with the makers in order to be noticed about security updates


  • Do not install portalware, but rather use on-line services (e.g. Ning for a community portal)


5 Links