In Focus: Liferay, Inc.

Article ImageBrian Chan considers himself one lucky man.

What started as a website project for his church has turned into a leading open source enterprise portal framework for integrated web publishing and content management, an enterprise service bus, and service-oriented architecture, all compatible with major IT infrastructures.

Chan, one of Liferay’s founders and its chief software architect, created Liferay for the nonprofit sector after finding no viable budget-conscious solution while trying to build a website for his church. The product turned out to be surprisingly robust, so Chan launched it in the open source space in 2002. Liferay’s popularity quickly grew beyond the nonprofit sector, and Chan discovered that the Liferay Portal could also make a significant impact on the business community as a for-profit business.

Development of the product is in its eighth year, and Liferay has more than 40 employees at its Los Angeles headquarters and locations in Europe and Asia, including a new Asian headquarters in Dalian, China. Liferay leads the open source Java portal space, with an average of 40,000 downloads a month, according to, a figure that eclipses the combined downloads of other Java-based portal software providers. The company has more than 80 active open source community contributors and was expected to reach the 1 millionth-download mark by November 2007.

Liferay is open source because management believes it is the next step in the evolution of software development. Management deliberately chose the liberal Massachusetts Institute of Technology license, which means no license fees or reciprocity clauses for users.

The company’s flagship Liferay Portal has more than 60 prebundled portlets and more than 20 community-contributed themes. It runs on all major application servers, databases, and operating systems in more than 700 deployment combinations. The product is billed as the only portal that can run in either application server or servlet container, and it has been benchmarked among the most secure portal platforms using LogicLibrary’s Logiscan suite.

Liferay Journal, the company’s built-in content management system, features publishing workflow, versioning, structured content, XSL and Velocity templates, a document library and image gallery, separation of content from layout, and roles-based permissioning. It integrates with Alfresco, and its web publishing, portal publishing, and staging tools allow users to edit website content and multiple working copies at the same time, without disrupting live pages.

“We’ve announced several new integration and services partnerships in the past year and are working with these relationships to bring even more value and functionality to our users,” says Chan. “A lot of time and effort still goes into enhancing our user interface, which has already earned us a good deal of industry recognition.”

All of Liferay’s products are supported by a robust community of users who share bug fixes and modifications with Liferay so others can more easily upgrade to the latest version of Liferay without spending time and energy to reintegrate their own custom changes. Contributors often improve the modifications created by others, creating a steamroller effect of quality open source software.

“Liferay has come a long way since I started development on it,” says Chan. “We’ve become a de facto portal standard among enterprises worldwide and have been expanding our talent quickly to meet the demand for work.”

Open source software empowers developing economies because zero acquisition cost allows viable businesses to be created with rates appropriate to local economies. Chan set out to leverage business as a way to form relationships, learn, and, ultimately, make a positive impact across cultures. Profits from Liferay’s professional services have been used toward quarterly donations to world charities.

Notable partners in Liferay’s business and product development have included the Madrid school system, whose education portal enables more than 1 million students to learn collaboratively, and Goodwill, Inc., whose portal is used to deliver online job training to disadvantaged individuals across the United States. Currently, Liferay is working with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations that works to enable the rural poor to overcome poverty. Liferay is customizing the website to empower collaboration and cooperation among the global community of rural poor and agencies involved in this work.

That spirit of cooperation is evident among Liferay employees. Company culture is laid-back and casual, which makes for a positive working environment. The company maintains an approachable, grass-roots feel despite triple-digit revenue growth, rising adoption, and an expanded global presence.


Fun Fact: Brian Chan, creator of the Liferay portal, was offered a job illustrating comic books out of high school.