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InfoQ Homepage News Eclipse Business Intelligence Reporting Tools Version 2.2 Adds MSOffice File Type Output Support

Eclipse Business Intelligence Reporting Tools Version 2.2 Adds MSOffice File Type Output Support

BIRT is an Eclipse-based open source reporting system for Java and JEE based web applications. It provides features to visually add Lists, Charts, Cross Tabs, Documents and Compound Reports to report applications. BIRT competes in the same space as the open source JasperReports project and the related iReport visual designer. Its latest version, BIRT 2.2 has been recently released with major enhancements as a part of Eclipse Europa release.

Eclipse Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools project (BIRT) is based on initial research work and code donated by Actuate to the Eclipse foundation.

BIRT has two main components:

  • A report designer based on Eclipse, which can be used to visually add Lists, Charts, Cross Tabs, Documents and Compound Reports to web based report applications primarily using Java and JEE.
  • A runtime component which can be added to the application server to run reports.

A BIRT report consists of the following four main parts:

  • Data Access: A BIRT report can access data from Databases, Web Services, Java Objects, XML documents and flat files. Moreover, a single report can access data from multiple resources.
  • Data Transformation: BIRT provides support to sort, filter, group and summarize data before it is presented to the user. This is specially useful when accessing data from Java Objects or Flat Files.
  • Business Logic: BIRT provides support to apply report specific business logic to the data or invoke application business logic.
  • Presentation: BIRT provides support to present data as Lists, Charts, Groups and in many more formats.

Michael Coté did a video interview and demo on BIRT at JavaOne with Virgil Dodson, Java Reporting Evangelist at Actuate.

The latest version, BIRT 2.2, which has been released as a part of Eclipse's coordinated 2007 release Europa, includes the following new and notable features:

  • Dynamic cross table and data cube elements.
  • Capability to retrieve data using a Web Service ODA (Open Data Access ) driver.
  • A new BIRT tag library, a new Chart Tag library and Chart Viewer Servlet.
  • Support for new Chart types.
  • New emitters to output reports in XLS, Word, Power Point and Post Script formats, in addition to the already supported PDF and HTML formats.

InfoQ contacted Wenfeng Li, BIRT Project Management Committee Lead, requesting him to throw some more light on the latest release. Please note his comments are personal and don't represent all committers nor all member companies in the BIRT project. On how the development process of BIRT 2.2 was effected by the Europa release umbrella he responded:

The positive impact is that we have a forum (umbrella) to communicate with the project that BIRT depends on. BIRT have dependency on other projects in the Eclipse community, such as the platform , OSGi, EMF, GEF, DTP, and WTP. With a common release goal, we have a regular place to go to discuss issues with those projects, which encourage interactions among projects to resolve issues quickly. Another benefit is that we get to learn some of the best practice in release engineering (build, source control mgmt, packaging etc) from other Eclipse projects. These benefit comes with some costs, such as we need to rush some of our milestone cycle to be in synch with the rest of the project. We have to update our development environment more often with the latest milestone builds from other projects, instead of staying on a released version.

InfoQ then asked which feature added in 2.2 in his opinion brings the most value to developers:

The dynamic Crosstab and data cube feature. It blends analytics capability into reporting which is an unique innovation among existing reporting tools. It also lays a foundation to expand BIRT project's scope from pure reporting to OLAP.

Finally the road map for 2.3 was discussed. It is slated to part of the Eclipse Ganymede release. Current user feedback includes adding some of the missing features in the data cube and crosstab area, improving the ease of use of the designer in general, and providing better debugging tools for report design especially scripting. Longer term the team would like to have more contributors to the BIRT project and expand the project to cover other BI areas. Finally the BIRT team would like to deepen the integration with other Eclipse projects. in the reporting tool area, the team would like to explore richer visualization technology on more platforms, including the web platform, smart clients, and mobile devices.

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