Actuate gets busy 2

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Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

As I reported in my previous article about Actuate, the company has been busy on a number of fronts. In this article I want to focus on BIRT 2.0, the release candidate which became available for download at the beginning of this month, and which should be generally available at the end of this month. Actuate BIRT (the licensed version) should be available a few weeks thereafter.

Now, the problem with BIRT (which stands for Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools) is that most BI people don’t know much about development and only some developers know much about BI, and BIRT is, in effect, BI/reporting for developers. That is, it provides developers an open source, Eclipse-based environment for building BI and reporting capabilities into applications.

If you are a Java developer that is a big deal: 65% of all Java programmers use an Eclipse-based environment and BIRT is the reporting technology for Eclipse. If you want to develop a reporting capability and you use Eclipse then BIRT is where you do it.

So far, so good. But with BIRT 1.0 that was as good as it got. With BIRT 2.0 that all changes. First, Zend is going to be instantiating BIRT into PHP so that means that all of you PHP developers can use BIRT for reporting and development. In addition, a number of other companies are planning to implement BIRT within their environments.

The second major point is that BIRT is now much richer. There are new reports and charts, large and persistent reports are supported, there is support for Java (as opposed to just Javascript), there is built-in debugging for both of these and, in particular, there is now a Report Component Library. What this last means is that BIRT supports reuse. Reuse means that you can build templates and templates mean that business analysts can use these to build reports.

In other words, and this is the big news about BIRT 2.0, BIRT is now moving beyond the domain of application developers programming reports (though those facilities are extended and strengthened with facilities like cascading style sheets) and into the world that is dominated by Crystal Reports.

This raises the obvious question: can BIRT make inroads into Business Objects’ domination of the reporting market with Crystal? The short answer to this question has to be yes—more interesting is how far? Crystal Reports is functionally richer than BIRT but BIRT is open source. Not only does this mean that BIRT is free (unless you license Actuate BIRT) it also means that the community is developing it and not just one company. For example, there are new report types in BIRT 2.0 that were developed within the community and not by Actuate, and this is likely to accelerate.

So, the clear answer is that BIRT can hurt Business Objects and other reporting tool vendors, just as MySQL has made substantial inroads into the database market. It will be interesting to see how these suppliers respond: will they more or less ignore open source, as the major database vendors have done (in so far as the databases themselves are concerned) or will they respond? And if the latter: how? Watch this space.