4.8 Summary

The final version of the portlet was submitted to the CREE project to be included in the user-evaluation phase. This involved the aggregation of all the CREE portlets into a test-portal environment hosted by the University of Hull. Various participants were then given the task of evaluating the functionality of the portlets within the portal environment as compared to their equivalent legacy counterparts. Although the results of this user evaluation have not yet been disseminated among the CREE partners, the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) was largely happy with the portlet as a functioning research tool as well as an innovative extension to the already established HEIRPORT portal. However, there are several points that the ADS feel are worth mentioning with regards to the aesthetic design as well as performance-related issues surrounding the portlet itself.

Although this project was essentially the ADS's first venture into portlet development, it must be noted that the learning curve to write a basic JSR-168 compliant portlet was found to be relatively easy. Upon reflection, the difficulty wasn't so much in understanding the specification, but rather in achieving a good balance between portlet functionality and design while working within the specification. Difficulties aside, the HEIRPORT lite portlet successfully delivered the basic proposed functionality. There are, however, as is the case with the majority of development projects, areas for potential improvement.

The inclusion of the Notepad extension was found to generate positive feedback among various interested parties. Specifically, the ability to export the stored records as XML formatted data was of interest. However, an XSLT (or similar) transformation could quite easily be added here to allow the data to be exported in a number of different formats (e.g. Word, PDF, txt etc.). This would be a welcome modification for many users, in particular, those who may not have the technical understanding required to exploit the versatility of XML formatted data.

The second major talking-point was found to be the inclusion of the MapServer functionality. Although this was largely successful, the development team felt that this avenue could have been taken much further. Aside from the generation of simple location maps, there is no reason that, given more time and effort, something like a distribution map for a particular record set could not be implemented.

The successful implementation of both the MapServer and Notepad mechanisms discussed above highlight the virtues of developing an extensible system. By following the Model View Controller (MVC) (Glossary) design pattern from the beginning of the project, the said features were relatively easy to incorporate into the existing code. Although the use of technology such as JavaServer Faces (Glossary) would perhaps facilitate these mechanisms in a more elegant manner, by using the MVC approach it proved possible to integrate these extensions with only slight modification to the code representing the controller.

Finally, the use of web services to deploy portlets (WSRP see Section 3) to various CREE partner's portal systems worked reasonably well in testing. The benefits of using this kind of technology are immediately evident. For instance, a consumer would not have to obtain and redeploy the portlet each time the producer wanted to implement any changes. Conversely, if the producer did want to make changes to the underlying code, then these could be implemented without the worry that each consumer was using the latest code. Although it must be said that the ADS did experience various technical difficulties during the WSRP testing, these were largely due to limitations imposed by the University of York's security policies rather than with the web service technology itself. These issues aside, the ADS would still recommend WSRP as the preferred choice of deployment. The exploration of using portlet technologies with the HEIRPORT portlet could also be applied to the ARENA project. The map interface was included in ARENA but the Notepad extension would be essential in any development of ARENA, since a Europe-wide resource will inevitably return very large datasets that require substantial manipulation by the user.


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