After aggressively targeting the masses of business users, business intelligence (BI) software maker Actuate Corp. is now going after the masses of J2EE developers by joining the Eclipse Foundation Inc., an independent organization that oversees open source development projects.
South San Francisco-based Actuate joins Eclipse as a Strategic Developer and board member with the aim of open sourcing some of the key fundamentals of its enterprise reporting platform and developing new commercial products based on the open source code-base.
Actuate is submitting a proposal for a Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT) project that leverages the open source environment. BIRT will join five other top-level Eclipse projects in progress.
The BIRT project proposal will be available on the Eclipse Website for open review and comment over the next 30 days. The project will formally kick off in October this year when work will commence on developing the first open source software products.
Part of the rationale for co-launching BIRT is to remove the complexity from hand-coded reports using JavaServer Pages.
This is a strategic initiative that we’ve been thinking about for a long time, Actuate CEO Pete Cittadini told analysts at the company’s international user conference in Los Angeles, where the initiative was unveiled.
It’s a key part of our future corporate and future product development strategy…it’ll be key for our enterprise reporting applications to get broader acceptance in the marketplace, Cittadini added.
Under Eclipse rules, Strategic Development members must provide at least seven engineers to the project. We’ll be supplying more than that which is the reason why we increased our investment in R&D a while back, said Mark Coggins, senior vice president of engineering at Actuate. Actuate recently announced it was raising its R&D spending by around $1 million this year.
Coggins outlined three initial open source-coded software deliverables for the BIRT project; a BIRT Designer, BIRT Design, and BIRT Engine.
The Designer component, built on top of the Eclipse IDE for creating reports, will be a WYSIWYG environment for developing XML-based report specification (Designs) that are run by the read by the Engine.
Coggins said the BIRT code will be created from scratch and aimed primarily at power users and Java code developers. We’re creating this code from the ground-up rather than submitting existing code, he stressed.
One of the mandatory obligations of Eclipse development members is to ship a commercial software product within one year of joining.
Actuate expects to roll out new commercial products built on the BIRT open source code-base in 2005. These will include BIRT packages that include training and support and later a server option that will take full advantage of Actuate’s iServer. Executives also hinted that an open source version of its eSpreadsheet technology gained through the acquisition of Tidestone Technologies Inc is on the cards.
Other products will follow in late 2005 that will fill out other areas of Actuate’s product offerings.
It’s likely that Actuate’s Shanghai development center will act as a development hub for the initiative. According to Cittadini the center is already working on the open source code base.
China is a core part of our engineering organization. We don’t follow the traditional off-shoring model of design here and code there…we’re giving [Shanghai] a leading role in the BIRT project.
Cittadini believes that open source represents a new business model for the company. It allows us to make our enterprise reporting products more ubiquitous in the J2EE development community which already runs the operational backbone in most large organizations today, he said.
Until now there’s been no BI or reporting development offering for Eclipse, Cittadini said, pointing out that Actuate is more of an application development paradigm for reporting applications rather than a tool to point at a data warehouse.
Most Java applications need some kind of reporting. We’re now addressing this need, he added.
By riding on the coat-tails of Eclipse’s growing market momentum Actuate hopes to raise market awareness of its enterprise reporting products as well as drive better quality software.
But the company also acknowledges that its ReportingEngines Formula One Java reporting business could be impacted revenue wise. ReportingEngines provides reporting tools and components to the Java development community.
But Mike Thoma, vice president of product marketing for Actuate, isn’t unduly worried, pointing out that the division contributes less than five percent of Actuate’s revenue at the moment.
The upside benefits of open source will outstrip the negative downside for our Formula.One business, Thoma said.
Thoma also believes that Actuate will gain a significant first mover advantage in the market. We’re aiming to put forth a new standard in the space.
Thoma also believes the move responds to Microsoft’s free Reporting Services strategy, which more or less gives away enterprise reporting capabilities as part of its SQL Server database platform.
Thoma believes that making reporting tasks simpler and more easily adopted by users will pose a serious challenge to Reporting Services. We’re now addressing [enterprise reporting] from an open source rather than a database standpoint.
Cittadini believes that by picking what he calls a winning IDE for building transactional applications Actuate is laying the foundation for a new open source code base for the future; a pointer perhaps towards what the next generation of its flagship platform (Actuate) might look like.
The company even thinks it has taken a tentative first step towards defining an open source BI and reporting platform to which other BI vendors might even contribute to. But of course it’s early days yet.
The Eclipse Foundation was formed nearly three years ago by IBM Corp as a consortium to foster a commercial eco-system for open source development.
Eclipse has since evolved into an independent open source project and eco-system. IBM relinquished its control over the consortium in January 2004 and Eclipse transferred into an independent, non-profit entity. While IBM remains a key member it exerts no more control/vote in Eclipse than other members which include influential vendors like SAP AG, Ericsson, Intel Corp, and Hewlett-Packard & Co.
There are 22 active projects operating under the Eclipse banner today.
The BIRT project evolves Actuate’s interest in Eclipse which can be traced back to January 2004 when it began development of an IDE on top of the Eclipse framework. In June this year it joined Eclipse as an add-in provider. Actuate now joins other Strategic Developer members like IBM, Intel and QNX Systems Ltd.
Eclipse isn’t the only open source game in town and competes with other movements such as Apache and Linux.