.Net comes to WebSphere Portal

Mainsoft lets .Net developers build WebSphere portlets, and it allows WebSphere to talk to SharePoint, to boot

In the beginning, Mainsoft released Visual MainWin for Java EE, which compiled .Net CIL (Common Intermediate Language) code into Java bytecode. As technically fascinating as that was, on its own it provided limited traction. Much of Microsoft's attractiveness to the enterprise goes beyond its .Net languages and runtime frameworks. It is Microsoft's enterprise applications such as SharePoint and SQL Server that -- for many enterprise programmers -- make the .Net environment worth using. A tool that simply moves .Net code into Java moves that code out of reach of Microsoft's enterprise applications.

Now comes Mainsoft's Portal Edition and Mainsoft's SharePoint Federator for WebSphere Portal. Mainsoft's Portal Edition turns Visual Studio into a forge for hammering ASP.Net applications into WebSphere Portal portlets. The SharePoint Federator -- via a pair of portlet building blocks installed in Visual Studio -- endows WebSphere portlets with access to Microsoft SharePoint servers.

By way of example, here an ASP.Net application that reads stock quotes through a Web service is invisibly transformed into a WebSphere portlet. What was a C# application (in the background) executes as a Java portlet (in the foreground).

WebSphere Portal .Net

The overarching goal of Mainsoft Portal Edition is simple: turn an ASP.Net application into a WebSphere portlet. In practice, this amounts to turning an ASP.Net developer into a WebSphere portlet developer. Mainsoft achieves this with neither mental discomfort to the developer nor visual discomfort to the ultimate users of the resulting portlets. For the former, Mainsoft has so skillfully insinuated its portlet SDK into the Visual Studio IDE that developers are insulated from all but the entirely unavoidable technical details of building a WebSphere portlet. For the latter, Mainsoft's SDK fashions all the glue code and meta-information needed so that the final portlet -- though hatched from Visual Studio -- is visually and behaviorally identical to a portlet built from the get-go in Java.

Install Mainsoft's SDK into Visual Studio 2005, and when you open the IDE, you'll discover a new ASP.Net Portal Application in the project templates dialog. Select this for your project type, and the Mainsoft SDK builds a skeletal portal application -- constructing a project folder view, instantiating required resource and configuration files, and building the portal equivalent of a default ASPX Web page -- in much the same way that Visual Studio will create the skeletal structure of a new ASP.Net project.

The full content of Visual Studio's controls toolbox -- standard controls like buttons and text boxes, data controls like grid views and data lists, and so on -- are available as you build your ASP.Net-to-portlet application. To the standard control sets, Mainsoft adds IBM WebSphere Portal Web Forms. This set includes a single control, wpPerson, which is an implementation of the WebSphere Portal's Person tag. Put a wpPerson control into your portlet application, configure an associated user in the control's properties dialog, and at execution time an icon is displayed that corresponds to that person. Click on the icon, and a menu appears, allowing you to do things like determine if the person is online, initiate a chat with the person, send e-mail, and so on.

Once you've populated your portlet's frame with your intended controls, simply select Run from the IDE's menu. Visual Studio will compile your application, and Mainsoft's components will translate the CIL code to Java bytecode, package the results into a .war file, and deploy that to a WebSphere Portal application server for execution. (Another addition to the Visual Studio IDE is an entry on the options menu that allows you to configure the connection information to the target WebSphere Portal.)

And, yes, you can debug the portlet as it executes in WebSphere. Mainsoft instruments the generated bytecode so that lines of C# (or VB.Net) source are properly associated by the debugger to the corresponding Java bytecode. In other words, while you single-step through C# or VB.Net source, it's Java bytecode that's actually being executed. You have to be careful where you set break points. While I was testing this capability, I occasionally caused WebSphere to interpret the paused process as an unavailable portlet.

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Rick Grehan

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