Actuate Brews Java Reporting Solution

Open source reporting project is a bold move.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

August 24, 2005

6 Min Read


On June 6, 2005, Actuate Corporation announced the availability of BIRT 1.0, an Eclipse-based, open source, 100 percent Java reporting solution. Developed within Actuate, BIRT provides basic report design and generation functions for 100 percent Java applications. Designed to be embedded, BIRT has basic HTML-form interactivity and produces reports in HTML and PDF formats. BIRT is available from Actuate, bundled with a commercial license, maintenance and support, or from the Eclipse Foundation as an open source project. The open source version of BIRT is the only one of the six Eclipse projects focused on BI and reporting. BIRT is a bold but as yet unproven gambit by Actuate to gain market share against the leading BI technology vendors. Organizations with 100% Java application development projects that require reporting should consider BIRT to speed report development.

Actuate Corporation's BIRT 1.0 is a new open-source-based business intelligence report technology. BIRT will be made available to the market from Actuate and via the Eclipse Foundation. The version from Actuate will have a commercial license along with Actuate-provided maintenance and support, while the version from the Eclipse Foundation will be available under open source licensing. BIRT is an entirely separate product from Actuate’s other reporting products and has been strategically positioned in the open source application development market via its endorsement by the Eclipse Foundation ( The version of BIRT available as open source is unique in that it is only BI project among the six Eclipse projects; the other five are the Eclipse development environment itself, Eclipse Web Tools, Eclipse Test & Performance, Eclipse Tools and Eclipse Technology. (Eclipse was originally formed when IBM released the Java-based Eclipse platform to open source. The organization now includes 97 member companies and has reorganized into a not-for-profit corporation.) Ventana Research believes that Actuate’s Eclipse relationship will accelerate adoption of BIRT and may help BIRT to become one of a few open source BI product success stories.

The Actuate and Eclipse versions are the same except that the Actuate version includes an automated installer, commercial licensing, maintenance and support from Actuate. The BIRT technology consists of a report development environment, a report file format specification and a report rendering engine for tables and charts. The project is 100 percent Java-based and generates HTML- and PDF-based BI reports. The report engine is designed to run as a compiled environment to improve performance. The report development environment runs within the Eclipse Development Environment and the report rendering engine runs on various application servers including the one used with Eclipse Web tools. Ventana Research believes that other BI technology that is not 100 percent Java-based will be viewed less favorably for Java application projects where a pure environment is a high priority. BIRT and other similar Java-based reporting technologies (e.g. JasperSoft) will improve developer productivity on Java-based applications that require reporting. The other alternatives -- custom coding of reports in Java and non-Java based reporting technology -- incur extra development and maintenance costs. 

BIRT is an independent code line for Actuate pre-existing reporting products. It does not compile report templates to an intermediate language as does Actuate’s iServer. It also does not generate reports as spreadsheets as does Actuate’s e.Spreadsheet product. Reports created by BIRT do have some amount of interactivity as a result of the ability to embed HTML forms (e.g. pull-down menus, radio buttons, etc.) into generated reports. In support of dashboards, BIRT includes various gauges as part of its chart library. The BIRT report platform will be extensible via an API accessed through JavaScript and by custom programming of report files generated in XML by the report development environment. Query generation will be via query-by-example as well as custom SQL scripting. The tool also supports variables within the SQL statement. Ventana Research believes that in addressing reporting and dashboards, the initial release of BIRT is well positioned. Additional interactivity capabilities likely will be added in subsequent releases to address more ad-hoc analysis.

Actuate’s strategy is to penetrate the application development market by appealing to the 4.5 million Java developers worldwide. Of these developers, 65 percent use the Eclipse development environment. Actuate intends to develop a strong grassroots following among these Eclipse developers who will then influence key economic buyers within their organizations. Actuate’s business model is based on the expectation that organizations that download and learn the open source version of BIRT will then be motivated to license the company's commercial version, which includes maintenance and support from Actuate. Software revenue business models based on commercial version upgrades from open source are few; JBoss is one successful example. Ventana Research believes that the success of BIRT will hinge on the motivation to upgrade to a commercial product. For BIRT to be a significant revenue contributor, Actuate will have to provide a compelling reason to upgrade beyond the availability of maintenance.

Ventana Research believes BIRT and similar open source BI reporting projects will dramatically reduce report creation time within the Java development community. For this reason, as well as the fact that open source BI technology has no accompanying license fee, we believe that embedded BI built on open source technology like BIRT will eventually supersede the custom-built BI capabilities used frequently today in Java-based applications. With operational applications built using BI technology, embedded reporting systems like BIRT will capture a larger share of the BI market in the future.

Market Impact
BIRT and other open source BI projects (JasperReports, Pentaho) will likely make custom report generation for Java-based application development obsolete within the next few years. These technologies also will displace non-Java reporting technologies ( Crystal) where 100 percent Java is a priority. For Java BI products that are not open source but for which commercial licenses (Jreports, Oracle Reports) are sold, there may be some negative impact. Whether BIRT supersedes JasperReports as the open source reporting technology leader remains to be seen. The lack of a reporting development environment may hurt JasperReports over the longer term. The level of impact will be determined by functionality overlap between open source and commercial alternatives. Open Source BI software is not yet broad enough in functionality to impact use of leading BI platforms (Actuate, Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion, Information Builders, Microsoft, MicroStrategy, SAP)  for non-Java-based analytic applications and for enterprise BI standardization initiatives.

Ventana Research recommends that developers of Java-based application projects that require reporting consider BIRT for reporting and dashboard development. Organizations concerned with indemnification, maintenance and support should consider purchasing a BIRT support subscription from Actuate. Organizations seeking a range of open source BI software candidates should also assess JasperReports and Pentaho. Java projects seeking more functionality than that available from BIRT should consider other commercial Java reporting products as well as non-Java reporting products.

About Ventana Research
Ventana Research is the preeminent research and advisory services firm helping our clients maximize stakeholder value with Performance Management throughout their organizations. Putting research in a business and IT context we provide insight and education on the best practices, methodologies and technologies that enable our clients to leverage assets to understand, optimize, and align strategies and processes to meet their goals and objectives.

© 2005 Ventana Research

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