BIRT Kills Puppies: A Fair and Honest Review

So I’ve got this job at a pretty rad place called Windward.  We make, among other things, software that helps companies analyze and organize their data more effectively; this is the field of “Business Intelligence” (BI).  This week, I’m looking at some of the competition: BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools) is an open-source project founded and maintained by a company called Actuate, which uses it as the foundation for most of its commercial products.  BIRT is an Eclipse plug-in that allows you to design report templates and publish them in web-ready HTML, among other formats.  It comes with a visual editor with drag-and-drop functionality and support for pretty much everything you would ever want in a report: charts, tables, text and images, etc.–and, since it’s open source, it costs absolutely nothing up-front.  If you want to do more than just make reports, you can opt for one of Actuate’s commercial products, which add functionality such as the ability to host interactive reports on a web server, embed reports into web applications, and use interactive Flash charts, gadgets, and widgets in your reports.  Sounds great, right?  So what’s the problem?  Well… Continue reading

AutoQuery vs. Tableau: Fight!

AutoQuery and Tableau are competing software products within the rather paradoxically named field of “Business Intelligence” (or “BI”, for us lazy typists).  BI programs are designed for the purpose of making data analysis and presentation easier.  So, for instance, let’s say I’ve got a bunch of data sitting in a database and I want to put some of that data into a neat-looking graph, but I don’t want to actually look at the database—in fact, I’d rather not even think about the database because it has 3 million rows of data and that’s frankly terrifying.  So, I get some BI software and tell it what data I want to put in the chart based on which columns the data is in.  Not only do I not have to look at the database to do this, but if the data changes somehow (like, I dunno, our customers buy more of our products or something?) that change will be updated in the graph, because it’s pulling data from a live database.  Then, if I look at my beautiful chart and see something weird—like, say, one of my stores seems to be losing revenue every time employee Ian M. Athief is working the register—a BI program will let me filter out the data I don’t want to look at and “drill-down” to a tighter level of detail. Continue reading