|BI First Try|
| Review: Given Oracle, MySQL and DB2 databases with interesting data
Feature: Try getting some simple reports out the door in a couple of days with BI tools
Now I know that all of the free database vendors have reasonably good BI and reporting services; but I didn't want to get distracted by having to download and get a full set of BI apps working as well as the free databases. Contending with some of the database problems, especially on loading up and starting to test the querying capabilities - these were taking enough time and effort on their own. So Kiss was in order.
Open Source vs Commercial BI
There is actually quite a lot of Open Source BI tools, especially in the reporting and charting arenas. But I wanted something quick and dirty - easy to learn, I could be done looking at two or three products in a day or two at the most. Keep the focus on the free databases and finding out their capabilities. True, linking the databases into multi-table joins across databases was another angle I wanted to follow up on - but later, after getting some simple reports.
So we settled on 5 popular Reporting tools. Three are Open Source and two are commercial. Given the ease with which I have been able to download and install the free databases (DB2, MySQL and Oracle) I expected the same to be available from the BI tool vendors be it Open Source or commercial trial/demo software. However, for getting started and producing the first reports, my expectations were lower - and this is based on a)some of the problems encountered with loading data into the free databases (the devil is in the details) and b)the learning curves associated now with almost all database and application development tools.
On the latter, point I give the vendors top marks in trying to make all development tasks easier - but both Web and even desktop based app development is no easy row to hoe. So I allowed a full weekend to do the downloads and get some quick reporting results for show. This would be proof that the free databases can provide useful output. And given the success so far with the free databases, this should not be mission impossible. Here are the results.
Crystal Reports is a venerable player on the report writing and BI scene. It got started in the early days of Windows and for a long time was the key report writing component for number of Microsoft products. I have used Crystal in VB, C++, and now Java applications and find that it has a very rich set of functions and reporting features. Some complain that the richness leads to a high learning curve - and I certainly would not let end users work with the product with out thorough training.
And it appears thorough training in how to download the 765MB trial version of the Developers Edition is what this reviewer needs. On the third try Sunday evening I got close, 543MBs but no cigar. So I threw in the towel and have a request in with Business Objects to send me the CD version which will be tested as soon as it arrives.
Jaspersoft reports is one of the key Open Source rivals to BIRT and is used in a lot of Open Source projects - Bizgres lead by GreenPlum is an example. The reporting tool actually proceeded BIRT and set a lot of trends in Java report writing including output in several formats including HTML, XML, PDF, CVS, etc.
Yet the complete system is all delivered as Open Source and we had the best success
Yes, with the lone exception of ReportMill, this reviewer was disappointed with the difficulties of loading and installing both the Open Source and commercial BI products. I expected to get a lot more done on this past 3 -4 days. These BI vendors should take a page out of the database vendors' playbooks - they have taken their equally bulky and tough to learn software products and made them easy to download and install. Some like Oracle, MySQL and IBM DB2 have really gone out of the way to make First Step and Getting started documentation very accessible. IBM sends an email about 1 week and 3 weeks after your Express C download giving you tips and tutorials on where to go to get more out of your DB2.
Now some will argue that this undercuts key revenue streams for both commercial and Open Source BI vendors. And to an extent that is true. But MySQL and JBoss are two profitable examples of Open Source shops that have made getting started well a key success factor for their software applications.
In sum, we look cautiously forward to finding some good BI tools to go with the free databases. If readers have any recommendations, as always we really do appreciate the advice and will follow up on all emails sent here.
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