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Eclipse-Based Reporting Plug-In Debuts

There seems to be a consensus among open-source technology watchers that the Eclipse platform has reached a tipping point in its evolution toward widespread industry acceptance and even popularity. The recent EclipseCon trade show offered plenty of evidence to support the idea--primarily in the form of brand-name companies either jumping on board for the first time or ratcheting up their involvement in the Eclipse Foundation.

Several of those companies have cited as a key factor in their decision evidence that Eclipse is now truly independent of IBM, which developed the original Eclipse technology, and has been the largest code contributor.

But for Actuate Corporation, a South San Francisco-based maker of enterprise reporting applications, IBM's participation has always been a plus.

"IBM was never the evil empire to us," says Mike Thoma, Actuate's VP of product marketing. "They've actually been our role model. They're commercial, but they came to the conclusion that, in order to be successful, they needed a dual strategy. Their decision to open source a common, integrated development environment, one that everyone could use and improve--even their competitors--proved to be very good for them. And it convinced us."

Actuate signed on as an Eclipse Foundation Strategic Developer last August. Strategic Developer members pay as much as $250,000 per year in dues and pledge to ship a commercial product based on Eclipse within a year. BEA, Sybase, Computer Associates, Borland, and others recently announced that they, too, had become Strategic Developer members.

Actuate's proposal for the industry's first open-source Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools Project (BIRT) was approved as a top-level Eclipse project in September 2004.

On March 1, the company made all of the modules currently under development for the BIRT Project available for preview on the Eclipse.org site, including the Report Object Model (ROM), a schema for describing the elements that make up the design of a BIRT report; the Eclipse Report Designer, an Eclipse-based desktop authoring environment that generates reports based on the ROM; the Eclipse Report Engine, which enables reports to be generated using the ROM designs created by the Designer; and the Eclipse Charting Engine, which provides business chart generation capability within BIRT, and can also be used as a standalone charting component.

Actuate also announced that it has established an infrastructure to provide regular builds of BIRT to the Eclipse open-source community to allow for regular community feedback. BIRT version 1.0 is scheduled for release in the first half of 2005.

Eclipse Foundation executive director said that the BIRT plug-in "marks another step toward accelerating the development of Java applications that include business intelligence and reporting capabilities."

Microsoft is about to enter the reporting space, but Thoma isn't worried.

"We've been at this for more than a decade, not for as many months" he said. "And because [BIRT] is open and not proprietary, we think it has got a good chance to become a standard. The world definitely has room for both a .NET and J2EE standard for reporting."

BIRT release 1.0 is expected sometime in the first half of this year. To offer feedback on the BIRT preview, or for more information, visit: www.eclipse.org/birt.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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