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Instant Recognition

Actuate's Spreadsheet Designer makes the most of a familiar paradigm.

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You always have complete control over the format of your reports — the layout and style options just provide a starting point for your own unique design. You can format individual cells or selections and add grouping, outlining, and the like to your report to help categorize and arrange your data.

Once you have created a basic report you can then add additional components, such as charts and graphs. Several different chart and graph formats are available, with support for the most popular business formats (line, bar, and pie), and the available options give you almost complete control over the chart or graph's appearance. (See Figure 2.) An added bonus is that when you save your report to Excel format, these charting options and the underlying data can be modified within Excel itself. Other BI vendors offer export to Excel, but generally export the graphs as static images.

Another standout area within the product is the formula language — which, again, closely resembles the formula language that Excel uses. Excel "power users" should have no problems using their existing formula skills within e.Spreadsheet Designer. You can create formulas for a wide range of uses, from simple calculations to complex branching and control. The error messages for incorrect formulas or logic are similar to the error messages you might find within Excel, but the Help file provides only basic coverage of formulas so you'll need to have some experience with Excel to make the most of this feature.

And once you have finished creating your report, you can distribute it by publishing it to Actuate's iServer using a simple process. The iServer is a separate server product from Actuate that provides a robust processing and distribution back end for reports created with e.Spreadsheet Designer and can be used to deploy reports on the Web in a variety of formats.

Overall, e.Spreadsheet Designer has a number of features that make it a serious contender for organizations that currently rely on Excel for their reporting needs. Excel power users should easily transition to creating reports with e.Spreadsheet Designer with little or no formal training. The only possible detriment to implementing the product is the requirement to access data through JDBC instead of ODBC or native drivers.

With that said, third-party database drivers are available if your current application or database vendor doesn't provide a JDBC driver. It could be worth buying an additional driver for the cost savings that e.Spreadsheet Designer provides to Excel-centric organizations looking to move to a proper BI solution.


Figure 2 e.Spreadsheet Designer includes a number of charting and graphing types.

David McAmis [[email protected]] is an IT consultant, journalist, author, broadcaster, and expert in business intelligence who lives and works in Sydney, Australia.