back to article Liferay's not dead yet - but what's keeping it alive?

The enterprise portal market should have died years ago. With new-school collaboration tools like Yammer and newfangled integration frameworks like MuleSoft (ESB in the cloud) and Apigee (APIs), the market was being written off almost as soon as it began. More bluntly, in a market that was limping to single-digit growth in 2008 …


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  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Nice to hear about a company that tries to do good and not just "not do evil". If you can pull it off, not taking venture capital and going public is a very good way to keep control of a company, and staying true to your goals. It is not easy of course.

    Well done to Liferay

  2. Drummer Boy
    Thumb Up

    We like it

    We use Liferay extensively at the place I work at. It's used for end customer products, and we contribute towards the code pool.

    Given the prices charged for WebSphere/Weblogic and the like, it's no wonder that Liferay is doing well!!

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    What does it matter what the employees are doing away from the Portal development?

    Seriously, do I ask them whether they are vegetarians or whether they are driving to the recycling centre?

    No I don't.

    Because it's totally irrelevant to the end product.

    An alternative view of what's happening: the employees are given additional free time. That they spend it repairing housing instead of playing WoW is nice and all, but I just need to know things up to "free time".

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Forgive my ignorance but

    what is liferay again?

    BTW for a lot of companies a $100m business would be classed as substantial.

    1. Oninoshiko

      Re: Forgive my ignorance but

      I came to this article not knowing what liferay was, at least I know no less then I knew before.

  5. Sarev

    What is Liferay?

    Liferay is supposed to be the answer to your traditional corporate problems, such as: how can we store our documents in a shared, central repository that's easy to access direct from the desktop? And how can we have a central per-project calendar which everyone can easily sync with and update? All the stuff I'm pretty sure Sharepoint has solved (but don't get me started on that!).

    We use Liferay and it was my misfortune to be the one who had to set it up and maintain it. There are a billion configuration options, the documentation is poor, there are so many different permissions and attributes on everything with so many ways they can interact I'd be amazed if there aren't massive security holes everywhere from my misconfiguring it all.

    On top of that, the fundamentals we want to use it for never actually a) work well or b) work at all. For example, WebDAV is quite unreliable from various flavours of Windows - I'm sure that's Windows' fault, but most people (non-engineers) use that so it's a bit of a bummer.

    As for missing features, the calendar portlet is next to useless with no sensible integration to people's own calendars or central iCal servers. The document library is next to useless with no ability to put commit comments next to a revision of a document and no way to control the version number for a given commit. Oh, and you can't recursively set permissions and the like on a folder and all its contents!

    And yes we did raise all of these on the Liferay forums/bug trackers over the years but nothing ever changed.

    Oh, and it's veeery slow, too. But that seems to be the norm for server-side stuff nowadays. Hey ho. So we keep using it and it keeps limping along but it's a shadow of what I was hoping it would be when I first read about it. Maybe it's all sunshine and rainbows in the latest Liferay but after going around the painful upgrade cycle a few times, I have no idea what the latest version is like.

    I should temper all of this by saying I'm no sys admin and my company is too cheap to a) hire one and b) go for the commercial Liferay package. Still, let the downvotes roll in for one poor sod voicing his real world experience...

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: What is Liferay?

      "We use Liferay and it was my misfortune to be the one who had to set it up and maintain it. There are a billion configuration options, the documentation is poor, there are so many different permissions and attributes on everything with so many ways they can interact I'd be amazed if there aren't massive security holes everywhere from my misconfiguring it all."

      Isn't this SOP for open source software?*

      But before you have me down as an MS supporter I don't think "commercial" has any better reputation. Well considered default options are a part of making a good UI.

      I like control but companies must have some idea of the most common user profiles.

  6. jeffpotts

    Missing the answer to why Liferay is essential technology

    Sorry, Matt. You've highlighted that Liferay does good charitable work, which I think is great and I'm sure that lends itself to a really cool culture internally, but you fail to connect that to the reason why Liferay's clients find this Java portal server "essential technology". If there is no connection, why is it in the article? If there is a connection, how does that charitable work feed into making their technology better? Is it by attracting a certain type of employee? Are there lessons learned from the charitable work that are fed into product development?

    1. bryancheung

      Re: Missing the answer to why Liferay is essential technology


      Perhaps Matt felt that the fact of our success and our customer roster demonstrates that it's clearly an essential piece of technology to a lot of organizations. I don't think this article was intended to make a strong case for a new technological "angle"—hey, everyone, here's the way you *should* be solving problem XYZ. Liferay provides a tool for easily creating personalized web experiences and spaces for people to share information, access applications, and work with other people. The business value case for those goals has been made many times over by now, and we call it "portal" or "collaboration" or "content management" for shorthand. Perhaps it would have helped to emphasize those aspects of our product more in the article.

      Regarding the other stuff, I actually it's of utmost relevance to the public. Here's why.

      What we're about has been referred to here as "charitable work," but it's much deeper than that—calling it so is a shorthand for people to quickly get it, but doing so kills the nuance. Fundamentally, at Liferay we believe that companies are not living up to their maximum potential as agents for positive change in society. We have grown so accustomed to a disposable approach to business. Ramp up revenue to $100 million, get 1500 customers, and get acquired by Oracle or IBM. That list is long—most recently Eloqua and RightNow come to mind, but there are tons of other examples.

      And that's great for making money for founders and employees. But what used to be a nice by-product of building great companies has become the sole goal. And when that company dies, it's not just the technology that dies with it—it's the culture of the company and its ability to independently make decisions for the long-term health of the company, its customers, and the public. We lose the collective energy of a hundred or a thousand people working toward a vision and purpose bigger than itself.

      We all mourned the loss of MySQL not only because of the technology at stake but because of what MySQL stood for as a company.

      Even going public is not a guarantee of this kind of independence. Read the recent story about SurveyMonkey's CEO Dave Goldberg, who had this to say about why he's staying private: "I took my first company public and worked at Yahoo for seven years, and I saw plenty of decisions made because of what it would do to the stock price that week." That kind of short-term thinking is just as bad for long-term positive impact as being acquired is.

      It's also important to note that we're not just about being "do-gooders." Our decision to open an office in Hamilton is not charitable in essence. We're talking about giving people opportunities to participate in their success through hard work, training and market-relevant skills. Our work in Northeast Japan was an exploratory trip to see what kind of long-term economic and social impact we can make in the area by bringing jobs and skills to an area that has long suffered from a talent drain as young people move to Tokyo and other big cities. Sure, we make decisions that benefit communities that have hit on hard times, but at the end of the day they have to make sense for the business, and it's not a handout.

      So why should customers care? Or even technologists who might read this article? Because in order to be a strong company that can make this kind of impact, we have to develop good products and provide value to our customers. No rocket science here, just the basics of good business. But there's more than that. Since our vision impels us to make decisions that are not just about the bottom line, we've stayed private and unbeholden to investors, who need to monetize on a certain timeline. We don't have that pressure, which means we are free to make decisions that provide the best balance between what's good for the company, our customers, and the community. It means we've made more open source releases of our products over the last few years rather than fewer. Most importantly, it means we intend to stick around for the long-haul, which is always good for people who choose to build a relationship with us. People who invest in Liferay aren't going to be left holding the bag in five years because the engineering brains have left after an IPO or the products have been EOL'ed after an Oracle acquisition.

      Seth Godin's recent blog is relevant here—take a look.

      Technology comes and goes. Liferay's already evolved way beyond what we thought "portals" would be back in 2001, and we will continue to do so. But at the end of the day we don't want to be known for what widget we built that was cool in 2013, because none of that will matter in 2053.

      You said Matt missed the answer to why Liferay is essential technology. I think the bigger question, and what Matt's article begins to address, is, "What's the answer to why Liferay is an essential company to humankind?" Why do we deserve to exist? If we can consistently answer that question in a positive way, the rest will follow.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Missing the answer to why Liferay is essential technology

        We all mourned the loss of MySQL not only because of the technology at stake but because of what MySQL stood for as a company.

        Quick tip: Not everyone is you. People have a variety of opinions about various matters, including, say, the acquisition of MySQL. Not everyone "mourned" it. Not everyone believes it was a "loss".

        What's the answer to why Liferay is an essential company to humankind?

        That's easy: it isn't. I'm hard-pressed to think of any company or other organization which is "essential to humankind" (ugh), and it damn sure isn't Liferay.

        Now, you do have some cogent arguments here - not compelling ones, but possibly persuasive. Many people seem to agree that the stock market's fixation on short-term financial results is extremely narrow and often detrimental. Keeping a company private to avoid acquisition, and thereby preserve the integrity of the organization's staff and intellectual assets, could be a good strategy. Even holding up a corporate philosophy of social engagement as a reason to stay independent is a perfectly legitimate course, and it's reasonable to argue that increases the probability of long-term stability in the product, and so is good for customers. (You could also argue it can be bad for customers, for example through the standard economic arguments about the value of publicly-held corporations. I'm not advocating either position here.)

        But calling this "of utmost relevance to the public" is wild overstatement. It's not even of "utmost relevance" to customers; I doubt it's of "utmost relevance" even to most employees. (Suppose Liferay fell on hard times and had to start deferring a significant portion of salary payments. How many employees would resist opportunities to take other jobs? Maybe they have families and other obligations - which they likely find more relevant than Liferay's social engagement, when the chips are down.) And thinking it's relevant at all to the public at large is pure fantasy.

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