uPortal came into being around the turn of the century, when early "dotcom" internet vendors began to piggyback on the Yahoo! portal phenomenon by offering free campus portals to institutions. One caveat: they would carry advertising. And another: Issues like data ownership, user authentication, and business continuity were hardly thought through at all.
One group that decided to take matters into their own hands was the newly formed Jasig (In those days, JA-SIG, or Java in Administration Special Interest Group), a group of higher education technology leaders who decided to explore the possibility that higher education could build a campus portal themselves, share it freely with anyone who cared to download it, base the technology on open standards, without proprietary vendor lock-in, and, at least in this domain, control their own software destiny.
A core framework from vendor IBS started the team off. Soon afterwards, a three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, from 2001 to 2003, resulted in uPortal versions 1 and 2. Mellon later made additional funds available so that uPortal could support the emerging “portlet” standard for sharing portal content. uPortal adoption took off dramatically. By the time of the uPortal 2.5 release, hundreds of institutions, about half in the United States and half in Canada and Europe, had uPortal in production or in a phase leading up to full implementation. The JA-SIG community, led by schools such as Rutgers University, Yale, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, formed a core of developers that continues to develop the application to meet evolving needs.
A healthy ecosystem of institutions and Jasig affiliated vendors began to coalesce around uPortal at the same time. Unicon, a software services company that acquired IBS earlier on, became a major contributor to uPortal, which became the foundation of a new services-based business plan for the company. Sungard Higher Education had adapted uPortal in its earlier incarnation as SCT, making it the basis of its Luminus product. Sun Microsystems has continued to offer strong support to Jasig since the very beginning. ESUP-Portail, a French consortium of over eighty universities, has made uPortal the cornerstone of an offering that includes development frameworks and portal-based applications. A number of K-12 school districts in the United States, Canada, and France have now implemented uPortal, providing integrated administrative information to hundreds of K-12 schools.
uPortal continues to evolve to meet the needs of its users. Recent efforts have included small projects emerging around portlet development in ways that capitalize on the shared efforts of multiple institutions striving to build common solutions to common problems.
Recognition of uPortal by EDUCAUSE as a 2007 Catalyst Award winner reinforces the reality that higher education is capable of being an active participant in its own technology future.