Monday, August 28, 2006

BIRT: Can BIRT Replace ERD Pro and IServer?

I am just returning from the 2006 Actuate Users Conference. Despite getting a cold and the return flights home having some really annoying technical problems (delayed flights, no air conditioning, thanks American), I had a great time.

One of the questions that I was asked numerous times after my presentation was “can BIRT replace ERD Pro/Iserver?”

This is not an easy question to answer, nor is their a definitive answer. The best advice I can offer is that it depends on your reporting requirements.

For example, lets take our employee transcript report. Here is a simple report that uses two queries in its body, one to retrieve employee information; the other will retrieve the employee’s class history. It is pretty much a dump and retrieve. I might add some basic logic to the report for formatting every other row, or to change the color of a particular type of class, maybe bold classes required for audit purposes. But the fact is, there is no real complexity to the report itself, and no complex interactivity required. In this case, BIRT would be a preferred fit since I do not require “pixel perfect” presentation of data, or any of the complex scripting that ERD Pro’s Visual Basic engine provides.

Likewise, we have a particularly complex report that we use (attendees of the Actuate Conference may have seen this report which was presented in one of the tracks) that had more complex interactivity. This report could not have been done in a single report under BIRT and would have required multiple BIRT reports, JSP Pages, and possibly the use of AJAX and pulling reportlets from BIRT itself. In any event, it would be too complex.

As far as BIRT replacing Iserver, no. While the BIRT technology is definitely cool, it is being integrated into Iserver. Without Iserver, you don’t get some of the better features such as the great Web Service API’s, Page Level Security, or the ability to launch any of Actuates commercial products from the BIRT web API. The BIRT Viewer, however, is integrated into Actuate 9. While BIRT is a great technology, I don’t think Actuate would undercut their own commercial endeavors with it, they do have to pay the bills somehow. But it is as I always tell people; BIRT provides you with the 20 percent of reporting tools you use 80 percent of the time. In reality, I think its more like that 30 percent of tools you use 95 percent, but that’s my opinion, and that’s not how the saying goes.

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