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Review: Xcelsius And Xcelsius Workgroup

The Business Objects' tools work with Microsoft Excel and allow the creation not just of presentations, but also dashboard and portal content with KPIs. Our review looks at the products' strengths and weaknesses.
As a developer who has used Macromedia Breeze and Flex for developing BI analytical front-ends, it's my judgment that Xcelsius has the power to expedite such development. Power users that might tend to shy away from FlexBuilder will try Xcelsius because of the Excel interface. Most information workers feel comfortable with Excel. In fact, given Breeze's ease-of-use features, I was surprised to learn from industry insiders that Excel power users prefer the more involved steps in Xcelsius. In sum, the Excel connection is just as important as the Flash output. Xcelsius refuses to install unless a version of Excel 2003 is available on the PC being used. This is a strong commitment to Excel, given the fierce pricing pressure Microsoft is inflicting on the rest of the Business Objects BI stack.

Xcelsius Verdict

Not everything about Xcelsius is peaches and cream. My test-runs through the three example tutorials went well, but when I used data supplied from a MySQL database source, Xcelsius refused to see the data in them despite Excel 2003 being able to read the spreadsheets. Xcelsius also doesn't check that input ranges match output ranges in number and cell content. And because the import of Excel data is into Xcelsius' own spreadsheet model, Xcelsius remains blissfully unaware of any subsequent updates to that original Excel spreadsheet.

Xcelsius Workgroup is designed in part to address the issue of data updates in Excel, but updates to formulas and layouts in a spreadsheet remain a thorny problem for Xcelsius. But as the Xcelsius motto goes, users are likely "to steal the show" with their Xcelsius-powered PowerPoint, Adobe, HTML or stand-alone presentations. I had no problems using all the output options for presentations. I was surprised, however, that Business Object did not use Macromedia's Flash Paper as another powerful delivery vehicle.

Besides the dependence on Excel models and the inability to auto-update altered Excel spreadsheets, another key concern is how Xcelsius fits into the larger Business Object framework. Xcelsius does not take advantage of Crystal Reports or any other Business Objects BI capability such as metadata resources or Report Server, among others. But given the speed at which Crystal was adopted into the Business Objects framework, I would not be surprised to see Xcelsius follow suit.

There are a number of competitors to Xcelsius. At the high end there is the excellent Spotfire Decision Site, as well as SAS Insight. For those looking for a less expensive system, Hyperion's Visual Explorer and Cognos' PowerPlay come to mind. But none of these has the same feature set and price performance as Xcelsius:

  • Xcelsius Standard - $195 for development capabilities with Flash and PowerPoint output
  • Xcelsius Professional - $495 adds more components, PDF output and full developers API
  • Xcelsius Workgroup - $4,999 plus 25 user licenses adds Web Services and XML connections

Given the viral nature of Xcelsius adoption, IT managers will have to decide whether the future direction of Xcelsius Workgroup is going to fit well into a broader Business Objects portal/dashboard strategy -- or if Xcelsius will be kept in the trenches, limited to top-flight presentations.

Jacques Surveyer is a writer and consultant, see some of his work at theOpenSourcery.com