Book Review - Instant Liferay Portal 6 Starter

I am a hardcore Liferay Portal Developer (among many other things (: ) and in my four years of development experience, I’ve had the “pleasure” of training countless developers on Liferay and I know the difficulties most of them face when they first encounter Liferay. Explaining what a portal is, WCM, Workflow management, Dynamic Data Lists, Document Libraries, etc - which most developers generally have to develop from scratch in their previous projects, is a big challenge as it involves a change in the developers core working perspective. Moving from a pure development environment to a more restricted yet completely customizable portal development is a huge change for a lot of persons who just get started with Liferay. And listing out the features Liferay offers is the first thing we generally do when we introduce them to Liferay.

When I had an opportunity to go through "Instant Liferay Portal 6 Starter (ILPS)", an absolute Liferay beginner guide written by Sandeep Nair, I was obviously a little skeptical as to how the author would cover Liferay from a fresher’s perspective in just 54 pages (actually its 38 pages removing all the copyright info). I just finished going through this book and I have to say I’m satisfied. This book does not deviate from Liferay. Literally. Many other Liferay books I read previously do this mistake of explaining how to setup a MySQL/Oracle database, how to install/setup a server, etcetra – which a developer is already supposed to know before beginning with Liferay. But ILPS stuck to its aim like a leech and am glad to say it delivered it effectively. 

Instant Liferay Portal 6 Starter
Instant Liferay Portal 6 Starter

The Instant Liferay Portal 6 Starter assumes that the reader has a working knowledge of the web development environments. It does explain how to get started with each and every necessary applications required to get started with Liferay though. So no major worries there.

Liferay has been in the industry for several years now and changes keep on hitting the newer versions of Liferay Portal. The Instant Liferay Portal 6 Starter does a pretty neat job explaining a few of these newer features such as Startup screens, DB configurations, Teams versus Roles and Marketplace. These things are generally not documented too well on Official Liferay website and have to be figured out while working with Liferay. Having them laid out neatly is a huge advantage.

This is the overview grabbed of the book from Packtpub:
  • Learn something new in an Instant! A short, fast, focused guide delivering immediate results. 
  • Get acquainted with Liferay’s interface 
  • Learn the core concepts and terms of Liferay 
  • Create and manage content and learn to apply workflow to it 
  • Learn about collaboration and document management features
The Installation & Setup of Liferay is explained concisely. You have to be really careful not to assume this book to be a list of Sequential set of steps to be followed to get started in Liferay. This book, as far as I have observed is a very good coverage of the features and functionalities offed by Liferay Portal and a list of things that you are expected to encounter in your fight with Liferay while you are working with it. Although the sequential process is followed wherever necessary, knowing that this is NOT a development guidebook before reading it, helps the reader gauge the book’s significance more easily.

The book covers some of the most important aspects of Liferay such as Pages, Portlets, Layout Templates, Themes, Users, Sites, Organizations, User Groups, Roles, Permissions, teams, Page and Site Templates and Liferay Marketplace. The book doesn’t go too deep into each of this things, but gives you a good head start while explaining what each feature is, where to find it and how to work on it. The book has some pretty slick illustrations that don’t go overboard when explaining what it’s trying to convey. The illustrations are generally circled to highlight what they are trying to explain in context.

I cannot say there are any cons in the book as it delivered on its promise, but I would like to highlight a few things I felt needed additions/improvement. First – Google is killing iGoogle on November 1, 2013. Even if it fits the requirement perfectly, I don’t think it’s such a good idea to use iGoogle as an example when introducing a portal to the reader when it’s going to out of the web space in the immediate future. Just as a note, iGoogle ‘portlets’ do not conform to the JSR 168 or the JSR 286 specifications. They are built on Google’s proprietary protocols. Same goes with Open Social plugin demonstrating how to use iGoogle Widgets. If a reader reads this book after November 1, 2013, and tries to retrace the Open Social plugin steps given in the book, he’ll find facing a dead end as iGoogle will already be dead then. The author should also have included the naming convention of the downloaded Liferay files from Sourceforge which I think is very useful. 

For example:
liferay-portal-6.1.1-ce-ga2.zip
  • 6.1.1 – Version number (x.y.z)
  • CE – Community Edition (as opposed to EE – Enterprise Edition)
  • GA – General Access 
The book should also have included a common first-time startup issues – just one liners explaining what each error means. As already explained in the book, Linux and Mac are out of scope of this text.
When a user first logs into Liferay, a default site is created for her/him. The author puts this in the later part of the text when explaining the concept of Sites. Putting a reference of that part at the explanation of the first login will help the reader to relate those things. I would also have liked to see the workflow in action in areas other than Web Content Management (WCM). The workflow explanation is a little too narrow in scope for me J.
I really liked the “Top 5 features you need to know” section and was honestly disappointed a little when that section ended. I was craving for a little more intro to other important features of Liferay. The book explores:
  1. Content management
  2. Document management
  3. Collaboration tools
  4. OpenSocial gadgets
  5. Dynamic Data Lists
    The Dynamic Data Lists are a rarely explained concept but can prove to be a very powerful tool for non-programmers and developers alike. Many developers ignore this and go on to develop custom portlets just get basic data that can be collected through DDLs. The author does a slick job explaining DDLs.
Overall, the book is simple, brief and covers a broad spectrum of Liferay Administrative features. It is non-sequentially explained. Very useful for Liferay enthusiasts who are just beginning to look into Liferay. I’m going to try getting a ‘little’ kid, who is just about to start his career in Liferay, to read this book. Looks light it’ll save me a lot of trouble in explaining the feature set of Liferay. In the end, it’s all about exploring things and I suppose in a kind of way, this book gives the reader a good kickstart in that direction.

I believe Sandeep Nair (author of this book) had to control himself a lot while writing this book in order to stay focused on the features of Liferay and not to deviate too much from his goal. Well, Kudos Sandeep – you nailed it. Great read on the whole and a great way to revise the features of Liferay for middleware enthusiasts like me.

You can find the book over here: Instant Liferay Portal 6 Starter

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