Actuate-Eclipse Union To Shed New Light On Business Reporting

Actuate, South San Francisco, joined Eclipse, the open-source tools group spun off from IBM earlier this year, as a strategic developer and board member.

As part of its membership, Actuate will act as the lead on the new Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT) project, the goal of which is to build a business reporting tool on the open-source Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE), said Mark Coggins, senior vice president of engineering at Actuate. Actuate will contribute at least seven engineers to work on BIRT, a requirement of strategic developer membership with Eclipse.

BIRT was published for community review Tuesday and is now in a 30-day review cycle, during which community members can provide feedback on the project, Coggins said. By Sept. 24, the project should be accepted by Eclipse and a charter for the project announced. At that point developers on the project will begin building the BIRT tool, he said.

Once complete, BIRT will provide developers with a free, open-source tool that can enable J2EE applications with built-in business-reporting capability, Coggins said. BIRT also will add business-reporting capability to the Eclipse open-source IDE, a popular development framework that racks up about 10,000 downloads a day from the Web site, according to the Eclipse Foundation.

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Joe Lindsay, CTO with Costa Mesa, Calif.-based solution provider eBuilt, said if BIRT achieves what Actuate and Eclipse are planning, it "could be really cool."

"I used Actuate [in the past] and found their product an innovative reporting solution, and they are well qualified to help deliver what Eclipse BIRT promises," Lindsay said.

BIRT has three levels of architecture, Coggins said. The project will build a report designer on top of the Eclipse IDE, which will be a drag-and-drop tool for creating and designing business reports, he said. Developers would use the designer to define how a report will look and which data sources will provide information for the report.

The designer will write out the second level of BIRT's architecture--a design in an open, XML format. These designs then would be consumed by the third architecture element, a reporting engine that takes the design and renders it by drawing data from the defined sources, Coggins said.

BIRT will allow developers using the Eclipse IDE to create Java applications, then switch to the BIRT design mode to use the reporting tool, without having to open a separate tool, Coggins said. BIRT's reporting engine also can be embedded in Java applications, allowing users who are interacting with that application to create a report without having to switch to a different app, he said.

Actuate and other developers on BIRT will build the new tool from the ground up. Actuate chose this approach rather than simply donating its own code so that BIRT can incorporate as much feedback as possible for how the tool should be built, said Mike Thoma, vice president of product marketing at Actuate.

"This solution is designed for developers, rather than taking a product developed by Actuate and putting it in their hands and having them figure it out," Thoma said.

Actuate will also offer training support for BIRT and offer a commercial product to provide embedded business reporting for Java applications, Coggins said. Additionally, the ISV will include BIRT in some of its other business intelligence products..

Actuate sells its business intelligence software both directly and through partners. In April, the company added a reseller program to its partner initiatives, which already included programs for ISVs and systems integrators