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Are Open Source Reporting Tools Ready for Primetime? 57

Z0mb1eman asks: "My company is considering replacing our aging CrystalReports with an open source solution. We are currently doing our research, and the choices seem promising -- JasperReports, Actuate-backed BIRT, and Pentaho, which seems to combine other open-source reporting tools. All have some level of commercial support, but are they ready to replace established solutions like Crystal Reports or even Actuate? Is your company using an Open Source reporting tool, and what have been your experiences with such tools? Are there any other choices we should consider? What should we expect if we make the decision to switch?"
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Are Open Source Reporting Tools Ready for Primetime?

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  • by superwiz (655733) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:52PM (#14879872) Journal
    ... on Slashdot of all places. That alone should indicate the amount of apathy the open source community has towards this.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The Open Source community, as you call it, is a group of people writing software that they want. If noone who wants open source reporting software is willing to write said software, most likely it will not be written unless they pay someone else to do it. As the original poster mentioned however, there are a few choices at the moment. Don't make the mistake of confusing Slashdot with the Open Source community itself. Slashdot is populated primarily by spectators.
      • Really? Spectators? If nothing else, most people here are users of open source products. Which does make them part of the community. If nothing else than as perpetual testers of the software that others are kind enough to produce. Plus, as you know, with open source the line between users and modifiers is kind of grey. Added with the fact the actual contributors of oss must occasionally read Slashdot for their news, I think it's a good bet to say that Slashdot is the central place for the meeting of t
        • I use open source because it's lowercase free. I keep telling myself I'll contribute someday but it has been almost a decade and I haven't hardly even submitted any bug reports. I think a lot of people talk the talk, but few walk the walk. I'm sure someone will reply saying it's not the case but it is the case with everyone I know who uses open source. The only bug reports I know that anyone (I personally know) sends in is to bioconductor because something produces bad data. They don't care how hard it
  • Pentaho? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:53PM (#14879880)
    Sounds like a word in the educated pimp's dictionary.

    pentaho -noun: A group of 5 hos.

    Ideally, you need to have a pentaho on each corner you control.
  • JasperReports (Score:5, Informative)

    by speedy1161 (47255) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:55PM (#14879890)
    At my former place (a Fortune 50 retailer), we used JasperReports for a lot of our internal reporting needs. Generating PDF's for the web-applications, XLS docs for the business folks, and using all OS/Free software to do it.

    We used JasperAssistant [] to create the reports, training even non-technical folks on how to create the reports they needed. The reports they made weren't going to win awards, but they got what they wanted and we saved time.

    Just be aware that the JasperReports libs do their own thread management (at least it did as of the pre-1.2 release) so be aware of running inside of a J2EE container. We chose to write an asynchronous app that utilized JMS and a java daemon that read the queue and processed the messages, storing the output as a BLOB in a db.
    • Re:JasperReports (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We chose to write an asynchronous app that utilized JMS and a java daemon that read the queue and processed the messages, storing the output as a BLOB in a db.

      You have just perfectly summarized the open source approach.

    • Re:JasperReports (Score:4, Informative)

      by chellbelle1000 (959925) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:04PM (#14880665)
      I was asked to find a web based solution to replace Crystal Reports. I decided upon Jasper Reports, which as a programmer I found to be great. There is a lot of choice in report designers - the ones I tried were iReport, Jasper Assistant (eclipse plugin). As a programmer, I found these great to work with. I also found it easy to integrate into our java web application, with the use of both database and xml datasources. It was also easy to print the report to pdf or html.

      The graphing support is not as advanced as that in Crystal, I had to hand code a lot and therefore it would have been impossible for non-programmers/customers to include graphs in reports.
      I also found it difficult to replicate the "drill down" feature in Crystal Reports.
      Both of these points were extremely important in the replacement solution, and thus Jasper Reports was scrapped, deemed not to be as user friendly, and rich in advanced features as crystal :(.

      So, I guess - moral to the story - make sure you have a set of clear features you require and that what you decide meets them.
  • I use BIRT (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:10PM (#14879943)
    I was the first easy to use system that had powerful report creation. You can drag and drop from palette to create a layout which is pretty nice. It has smart charts (coloring based on marker values), PDF and HTML output. It supports POJOs (scripted), JDO, JDBC, Hibernate and is fully integrated with Eclipse if you are into that side of things.

    Another good thing is that Actuate has really responsive support and there are lots of examples, tutorials, and online help, etc.

    The only real downside so far - installation is a bear (they have promised to fix this soon) and there are still some bugs here and there (though they are responsive via newsgroup, bugzilla, and email.)
  • by Timothy Chu (2263) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:18PM (#14879981) Homepage
    You haven't talked about why you'd want to switch. If something works, why change it?
    • Well, something may be working, but there are bugs in Crystal Reports that become more annoying as time goes by.

      For example we embedded Crystal Reports into one of the applications as an easy way for our product customers to get the data in a nice printable form. A number of our customers had created their own custom reports. While working on the new version of our app we discovered a few bugs in CR that prevent us to do things more flexibly, specifically automate creation of report styles as data complexi

      • by Timothy Chu (2263) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:13PM (#14880215) Homepage
        First off, I'll state that I do work for Business Objects.

        Version 8...that's almost six years old (quite old in terms of reporting technology). Are you developing with Report Designer Component (RDC)? We currently support report modification through something called a RAS API, which might suit your needs. It can be accessed through .NET (which is how most of our RDC customers upgraded). Unfortunately, this is a completely different API from RDC. The good news is that the reports format itself is backwards compatible.

        I'm not in sales, so I can't tell you how much it would cost compared to open source alternatives. All I can do is tell you that it can be done.
        • by petard (117521) * on Thursday March 09, 2006 @02:17AM (#14881293) Homepage
          Huh. Business objects buying the crystal reports line slipped completely beneath my radar. Having used Jasper Reports, Crystal Reports, and what is now (I think) Business Objects Enterprise, I'd rank costs something like this:
          1. If you have developers handling your reporting anyway, the open source solutions are hands down cheaper. You'll get reports better tailored to your needs for comparable levels of effort with lower up-front costs.
          2. If you have non-developers handling your reporting, Crystal Reports is a false economy. Take either option 1 or option 3. You'll get more useful reports at lower effort.
          3. If you have non-developers handling your reporting with good DBA support, Business Objects enterprise is fantastic. Though the up-front costs seem insane compared to the alternatives, BO enterprise actually allows a moderately tech-savvy business analyst to create reports herself, at least on a one-off basis, without an immense effort. She'll get exactly the data she needs for her analysis without custom development. But you have to just get over the up front costs.

          So to summarize my memory of the costs:
          1. (OSS) $0 up-front costs, 3x developer effort, 1x business analyst effort, business analysts might get exactly what they need.
          2. (Crystal) $700/seat up-front, 2x developer effort, 2x business analyst effort, business analysts might get exactly what they need.
          3. (BO Enterprise) $1500 up-front, 0x develoepr effort, 1x DBA effort, 1x business analyst effort, business analysts definitely get exactly what they need.

          My knowledge of these products is admittedly a bit dated, but that's my recollection. If your management is clueful enough to buy Business Objects Enterprise, the savings in the end more than cover the up-front costs if you have good Business Analysts and good DBAs. Of course, for any of this to matter the reports have to actually be important and useful. If the measurements you're reporting on are BS anyway you should always go with option 1 so that maximum savings can be realized by scuttling the reports.
        • by ka6wke (306232)

          The good news is that the reports format itself is backwards compatible.

          Well, mostly this is true. I have several reports from CR5 days, that have had small modifications to them over the years, then saved as the newer format. After so many saved as,this will cause the report to not work like the previous version. What I've had to do to get around this was to create a new blank Crystal Report, in my last case in XI, recreate all the db connections, gather all the tables, and recreate all the links. Th

  • by mikeburke (683778) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:29PM (#14880023)
    Have you identified what your requirements are from a reporting tool, be it open source or commercial? Your definition of 'prime time' is totally dependent on this

    - who will be writing the reports (techies, business folks, both)?
    - what layout and formatting capabilities are absolutely needed?
    - any really big reports? performance may be an issue
    - what are the security needs - authentication, visibility, auditing, etc?
    - do you need overnight automated report runs?
    - what about bursting (automatically splitting a report into sub-reports based on department, product type, whatever)?
    - do you need to integrate with custom developed software? what language+platform, etc?

    The first point is particularly important - if business staff want to dolly up simple adhoc reports, then this will seriously narrow down the open source field pretty quickly.
  • by camt (162536) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:44PM (#14880089) Homepage
    I'm a Reporting Engineer, so business intelligence is my speciality. I do not work for a company that sells BI software or services, I'm just an administrator/power user. I've used BIRT, Crystal Reports, Crystal for Eclipse, MS SQL Reporting Services, Excel PivotTables with SQL Analysis Server cubes, Proclarity, Cognos ReportNet, Cognos Impromptu and Cognos PowerPlay.

    Business Objects seems to have a pretty solid platform these days, but the company tends to use underhanded advertising techniques and make dubious claims in their marketing material. I'm not sure how they are once you are a customer, but I have been unimpressed with their sales pitches to me. Microsoft SQL 2005 has some pretty neat tools bundled. They have really come a long way, and they are fantastic on the back-end or for use internally to the IT department, but they really have nothing in the way of user-facing front-ends that I would consider ready for "prime time". BIRT looks promising, and within a decade I would say it will be fantastic software.

    I highly recommend looking at Cognos Series 8. The back-end is a web services based framework and the zero client front ends blows everything else I have seen out of the water. It is simply the best platform I have *ever* used, though it can be a bit pricey. They used to work with you quite a bit on the price; not sure if they still do that with their new named-user-based licensing model. Their support is excellent as well. I was an early adopter of ReportNet, and Cognos flew an engineer down to our site on their dime to troubleshoot a critical bug; we were not a big site, at only 60ish end-users.

    Call up a Cognos [] rep, they are usually willing to come on-site to do a demo.
    • by mooingyak (720677) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:17PM (#14880228)
      I currently use (aka am stuck with) Cognos. While there's pretty much no chance of us replacing Cognos with something else, we've recently also looked BIRT, Actuate (actuate is currently supporting the BIRT project), Oracle, Crystal Reports, and Jasper Reports among other things. They don't really occupy the same market space. There is some conceptual overlap, but Cognos (or at least, what I've used from Cognos) tends to be a snapshot image of data while the various other solutions are more along the lines of on-demand reporting against a potentially volatile database.
      • Cognos has a whole range of products. We used their OLAP product as well as their web-based ad-hoc product. They also have Dashboarding and scorecarding and metrics management...

        On the backend, I think Cognos OLAP is just slightly better than MS SQL Analysis Services, but they are roughly equavalent for most uses. On the front-end, however, MS relies on Excel PivotTables, which totally SUCK. Cognos has an entirely web-based OLAP front end that is very intuitive and extremely powerful. This is by far th
        • Cognos has a whole range of products.

          I suspected as much, but I long ago gave up navigating their website. Every time I go there for information I come away empty handed.

          BTW, my "stuck with" was more from the developer side than the end-user side. I actually think it's a pretty nice tool from the end-user perpsective, but it can be a royal bitch to set up right sometimes.

          I don't know the exact details of the deal, but we have pretty much unlimited internal usage for Cognos products, since we're really a r
    • Cognos is probably overkill for canned reporting. Something like Reporting services should be good enough. Adhoc querying on the other hand, may need some BI tools like Cognos.
    • by GuyverDH (232921) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:25PM (#14880751)
      Business Objects, once you are a customer, spends more effort in telling you why your problem isn't their problem, even when you use their *default* installation and setup.

      They are constantly changing the layouts and deployment locations of their sub-components, and make it nearly impossible to throw a decent proxy front-end on their applet, so that it can fit into a standard (for our company) multi-tiered/multi-firewalled layout.

      It used to be that the docroot for all applets was /businessobjects, now they are moving them in a seemingly random manner. That's not the biggest problem either. Their current incarnation, will not allow the web server front end to be configured for SSL, while their Tomcat listener is non-ssl. For some reason, they hard-code the url components to be non-ssl, and the proxies we've tried cannot override this (at least the time we've spent attempting this has been unsuccessful). We finally enabled SSl at the application layer, and changed the proxy to simply use a passthru mode. It's ugly and it's not what we'd prefer to be doing.

      We've been waiting close to 6 months for a fix to this problem. One they were able to reproduce in their office, 6 months ago. Recently, when asked by us about the status, they stated that "We were finally able to reproduce the problem, and have sent it off to engineering." When we mentioned the fact that that's where we were at 6 months ago - they were like "Oh!"...

      Anyway - that's a customer's experience with Business Objects - and to put it mildly.... In my opinion, it sucketh greatly.
      • "Business Objects, once you are a customer, spends more effort in telling you why your problem isn't their problem" I went through this with Cognos on a project involving ReportNet. Their sales guys convinced my boss that the tool was capable of modeling complex outer join relationships between dozens of tables. It couldn't and we ended up writing 60% of our reports in Oracle SQL because the SQL that ReportNet generated sucked ass, either generating bad data or running forever. Every time we sent them e
      • I would have to wholeheartedly agree.

        BusinessObjects was "good" software back when no one was in their space about four years ago or more.

        Now they truly, "sucketh".
    • Also - what reporting technologies are you looking at? When I implemented OLAP at my previous employer, it revolutionized the way we reported data, the way we classified data and increased the amount of data people could get.

      We were a 100% ad-hoc-written-by-IT shop originally. When we rolled out OLAP, we intended to apply the 80/20 rule to reporting: OLAP cubes should handle 80% of the information requests, we can spend our time on the remaining 20% as complex ad-hoc reports. This turned out to be pretty
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Are Open Source Reporting Tools Ready for Primetime?"

    GNUvore is coming along nicely.
  • by junkgui (69602)
    After spending the last two weekends trouble shooting JasperReports that it is very close to being ready for prime time... But I can also say it IS NOT threak safe!!!!! But now that I know this everything is fine.
  • by lpangelrob (714473) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:33PM (#14880300)
    We're moving from CleverPath Reporter (Computer Associates) to... something else. Why? It's a program showing its age and inflexibility. And support was $1k a year.

    I'm testing Crystal Reports, which seems to be the Oracle of reporting software. Everyone knows about it, there's a large support base, it's quite pricey, ($7.5k for essentially the stuff CleverPath did, only hopefully more intelligent) and if you put it down as a skill on your resume, it's worth something. We don't have very high demands (yet) but I'm reasonably sure that support on-hand (right here, right now) is a requirement, hence I don't think I'll be testing Jasper. The reports really are crucial to the business.

    Haven't heard of the other solutions being thrown around; I'll give those a look too.

  • Report Manager (Score:2, Interesting)

    by technorash (734459)
    I recommend the Open Souce 'Report Manager' to my clients. I use to use Crystal Reports then moved to Report Manager as a replacement when Crystal removed the report compiler and changed thier pricing structure.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ultimately, the suitability of the software depends on your requirements, doesn't it? Do you require source? Do you require a lower cost solution? Do you require support? These are common reasons to evaluate open software replacements for commercial offerings. Chances are you won't find an open source solution that will match the features, functions and support of the commercial offerings available. This, I suspect, will change in time with projects like BIRT [] and companies like
  • by (528791) <> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:42PM (#14880821) Homepage
    We were using Jasper Reports with IReport and OpenReports for about a year until management got jumpy and not being able to hire anyone with Jasper expereince and migrated to Crystal.

    From my expeience it was great. The only thing it didn't do for us was Cross Tab reports but that was added after we'd migrated to Crystal. It's been around the longest and has a fairly nice base of third party apps. I had a look at some of the other solutions but at that time they were still in Alpha. It's nice to see that they've made lots of progress.

    So personaly I'd recommend checking out Jasper for a day and going from there.
    • until management got jumpy and not being able to hire anyone with Jasper expereince and migrated to Crystal.

      So you're in a good position to understand the training requirements between Jasper and Crystal. Would a 4-day training class in Orlando be enough for a Crystal junkie to tackle Jasper?
  • Experience (Score:4, Informative)

    by scottsevertson (25582) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:48PM (#14880851) Homepage
    JasperReports has worked well for me in many situations, and the report file format (XML) is easy enough to work with, even without a designer front end. Performance in most use cases is respectable, and I didn't have to jump through a lot of hoops to get things running. Whenever I need "traditional" reporting, JasperReports is my first choice.

    My current company is in the process of migrating away from Actuate e.Report, which has basically (but unofficially) been EOLed. For example, it'll run under Java 1.5, but every report logs an IOException during generation, and no fix is planned. Performance on large documents (read 1k+ pages) is unusable, and gets significantly worse as the page count increases (not exponentially, but worse than linearly). Oh, and don't plan on your users editing the RTFs it spits out - everything uses absolute positioning within the document, so the page doesn't reflow.

    I spent some quality time with BIRT last month, but wasn't terribly impressed. Installation wasn't painless, and their underlying model assumes that your data is a flat, relational table. Our data is hierarchical in nature, and we would have had to either flatten it, or use tons of sub-reports to accomplish our goals. Additionally, the options for output format are pretty limited compared with other solutions.

    We ended up setting with Windward Reports, for two main reasons:
    1. They assume hierarchical data instead of relational.
    2. Their design front end is any RTF editor, and produces editable RTF results (and can still output to HTML, PDF, etc).

    Performance with Windward has been an order of magnitude better that e.Report in our worst cases, and they've been quite good about implementing minor new features that we needed.

    A couple issues:
    1. They're not open source, and are relatively pricey, especially when you're an Application Service Provider.
    2. The code that is open (such as thier data adapters) has a strange license, and hasn't been actively cleaned up in a while. Their license requires that you submit any non-company-specific improvements made to a data adapter back to them.
    3. Their documentation is not up to date with their latest feature set, so be prepared to look at change logs, or ask questions on their forums. On the other hand, their tech support has been excellent.

    We considered a number of other innovative reporting solutions as well. Just make sure that the reporting solution you pick actually meets your data and user's requirements, and don't be afraid to look beyond the "standard" reporting systems if you have non-traditional needs.
  • More details... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Z0mb1eman (629653) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @12:09AM (#14880928) Homepage
    Wow, my first accepted submission :) At last, an excuse to read Slashdot at work tomorrow!

    I kept the submission fairly general, to avoid steering the discussion in any specific direction. Here are a few more details of our situation:

    We're a small-to-medium business, and our reporting needs are relatively modest (at the moment - we are steadily growing). I would say no more than 10-20 people need to generate reports. Our software department is also quite small - we have a fair amount of in-house Java expertise, but no one who actually knows Crystal Reports. We're also using an old version, and the reports themselves are out of date. Our choices are to invest in a new version of Crystal, the time for one of us to learn it, and rewriting the reports anyway - or choosing an open-source Java solution and hope for the best. The constraint, as always, is very limited manpower...

    Any feedback is welcome - I've seen some very good posts already, I'll have to read all the comments tomorrow in detail.

    • Crystal isn't very expensive, it's easy to use, and it is very easy to find people that know how to use it.
    • Re:More details... (Score:4, Informative)

      by camt (162536) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @09:30AM (#14882322) Homepage
      Cognos segments their licensing this way, but I have found it is a good way to think about reporting in general.

      Segment the people in your company into four groups:

      1) Report Consumers - people who consume reports. Generally this is simply the people receiving an email with their Excel report attached.

      2) Power Users - these are your business analysts. They are capable of self-servicing their reporting needs to a limited extent, if the interface is simple enough. These are the people who are savvy with Access.

      3) Report Authors - people who know your data inside and out, and understand how it applies to the business. In every company I have worked at, this role is inside the IT department. They have the robust reporting tools.

      4) Reporting Administrators - people who manage the report server, as well as define the metadata structure. Often this can overlap with a DBA Role. They need to understand about database relationships, cardinality, and also know the data inside and out, but not necessarily how it applies to the business.

      Also think about your uses for reporting. In general, reporting is in nature operational (customer called in and needs a copy of an invoice or a current statement of accounts), tactical (we need to generate a customer list for this marketing campaign using certain criteria so we can send a mailing) or stategic (high level executive view of the business).

      Hope this helps.
    • ActiveReports (Score:3, Informative)

      by claytongulick (725397)
      Though its not open source, I would recommend ActiveReports. Extremely flexible, even gives you a drawing API, and its totally isolated from the backend (unlike crystal and such) - you just hand it a dataset (in .net) and off you go. In my consulting days, I swore by it. Very simple and robust, also quite affordable. Just my $.02 .
  • ... and are any other reporting tools available in other languages, eg. C++. I know Crystal comes packaged as a COM object in MS land which makes it a language independant component, but what about integrating these OSS reporting tools into existing projects?
  • Let me start with the answer that is required by my job title. YES. ;-)

    Now, let's talk about what it really looks like. First "ready for prime time" means very different things to different people. If you're using each of the 72,000 features in Crystal Reports, you will definitely find that a lot of those features aren't available in some of the open source offerings. On the other hand, the open source offerings have some features that Crystal doesn't. But generally, a 22-year old reporting product has
  • Unfortunately, I find none of these are perfect. However, after scouting out the Open Source landscape and some Closed Source solutions, we've landed on BIRT, with the possibility of MS SQL Reporting Services. Our shop is about half and half Java or MS developers, which led us to support what best fits the developer (the primary creator of reports). As well, from our perspective, MS SRS or BIRT is free for us; if MS wasn't free we'd stick to BIRT.

    What we liked about MS SRS was the powerful server backend wi
  • I posted this earlier unintentionally under anonymous. It was more that I was not paying as close attention as I should have been than an act of cowardice as the name suggests. Anyways, I logged in this time and decided to post it top level: I work for Business Objects. In fact, I am the Product Manager for our new Crystal Reports for Eclipse offering. I attend a number of conferences with my job and often get asked this very question..."Why should I use your product over an Open Source Solution?" Open Sou
    • apologies for the formatting...apparently the copy over never kept the formatting (although preview worked for some reason). Here is the original again with proper formatting...if this turns out messed up as well then I will not make another attempt. :)

      I work for Business Objects. In fact, I am the Product Manager for our new Crystal Reports for Eclipse offering. I attend a number of conferences with my job and often get asked this very question..."Why should I use your product over an Open Source Solutio

      • Sean, To summarize your pricing comparison, you compare the approx $500/seat cost for Crystal with the $995 for a server deployment license for BIRT. I wonder if this is a fair comparison and if so why you would think so. Thanks! Krishna Venkatraman Product Manager for BIRT
        • Hi Krishna,

          I really did not want to use this forum to compare specific pricing models between vendors. I was simply trying to emphasize that when comparing two solutions, the end-user should ensure that they are comparing "apples with apples". If a user determines that they will want indemnification and support for their development they should be comparing Crystal Reports with the solution vendors which provide these services for Open Source Software. In this case, I used Actuate's BIRT offering as a

      • "The misconception that open source solutions are free often ends up costing an organization a lot more in the long run because they never took the time to do an initial assessment of what they actually expect from the product."

        Isn't this Microsoft's favorite anti-open-source argument? Do you have any (non-Microsoft-generated) data to support that? When you talk to people using, or considering using Eclipse (with or without crystal), do you warn them to carefully consider these "hidden costs", and take
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Can someone help me understand what this is all about? I thought that Crystal Reports was simply a tool that allowed people to generate their own database queries and design the output pages in the way they want. Frankly I've often wondered why Crystal reports was still relevant as most database applications include the ability to do such custom adhoc queries in the application itself.

    But, then people start talking about "Business Intelligence" and all sorts of other stuff that I can't wrap my head around.

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