February 28, 2006

The Lion, the Witch, and Linux

Author: Tina Gasperson

Walden Media, the company that produced The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, wanted a community-driven Web site that would encourage discussion and collaboration on the educational products related to its movies. After considering the options, Walden Media chose Liferay's MIT-licensed open source content management system (CMS), running on Linux.

Walden Media says its movie ideas spring from "compelling source material," such as classic literature and worthwhile true stories. The company is responsible for producing movies like Holes, Because of Winn-Dixie, and most recently, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Though they turn out good movies, what makes Walden unique is its in-house education team that works with educators around the country to develop movie-related curricula such as activity guides, discussion topics, and "enhanced" DVDs.

Daniel Kim, Walden's director of Web development, settled on Liferay after checking out a few other products. "We mostly concentrated on finding an open source solution," he says. "The most obvious reason is the cost and the flexibility that open source offers. We were under a tight budget."

But Kim also likes the quality that open code brings. "I'm a pretty firm believer that the open model leads to faster rates of code improvement."

Kim says he considered the JBoss portal and eXo Platform, but ultimately, Kim says, he went with Liferay because it gave him a better choice in frameworks. "For example, I really liked having Struts and Tiles on the presentation layer," he says. "I really like the skills transfer potential."

Meanwhile, Liferay CEO Brian Chan says he was surfing the Web one day looking for information on The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and he landed at the Walden site. "I noticed there was a message board, and then I looked closer and said, 'Wait a minute, this looks like the one I wrote!' I noticed a bug and emailed Daniel."

Chan calls it a testament to the "reach" of open source. Because the source code is freely available, companies with the right technical ability can get install the software without paying for support, and "we're still able to be a profitable company with the people who need to purchase support from us," Chan says.

Now that the site is up and running, Kim says one of the best things about the CMS is that it gives users who are not technically skilled the ability to update content. For example, Walden hires freelancers to write content for the site, and with Liferay they can post it from anywhere in the country.

Liferay's CMS is scaling gracefully as well. The CMS is running on a Compaq DL360 dual Intel Xeon cluster with Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server, Apache, JBoss, and Tomcat. A separate database server runs Oracle on Red Hat.

The site has more than 17,000 registered users, who have signed up for a free membership by creating a username and password and answering a few simple questions about themselves. Once signed in to the members area, they can post on one of the message board related to Walden's movies, use the calendar, search the site, chat, and vote in polls -- all features provided by Liferay.

Kim hasn't contributed his modifications back to the Liferay development community yet, but says that is a "definite possibility. Even though Liferay hasn't done any commercial work for us, they have offered [free] support, and it's been fabulous."


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