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Business Objects Embraces Eclipse

Skeptics might have scoffed when Business Objects SA announced plans to develop a version of its ubiquitous Crystal Reports reporting tool for Eclipse, but—as savvy industry-watchers note—there is a certain undeniable logic to this move. After all, the development world isn’t an Eclipse-only enclave. Code jockeys use a range of different integrated development environments (IDEs)—from Visual Studio in the .NET world to IBM’s Rational IDE, to BEA’s WebLogic IDE, among others—in addition to Eclipse, which is the most popular Java IDE.

“What you get with Crystal Reports for Eclipse is there’s this sort of de facto reporting standard outside of development. When we go to customer sites and whatnot, we’re finding that a lot of developers offload their report generation to their graphic designers and people who know what the formatting for the organization should be,” comments Sean Johnson, who heads up product marketing for the Crystal Eclipse plug-in. And quite aside from this practice, Johnson says, few companies have standardized on a single development paradigm—i.e., J2EE or .NET—let alone a single IDE.

In this regard, Johnson argues, Crystal’s cross-platform portability is an undeniable asset. “So [Eclipse developers] can import those [reports created in other IDEs] into their applications and just use the existing development tools that we provide with Crystal Reports for Eclipse.”

All marketing hyperbole aside, Business Objects’ Crystal-for-Eclipse gambit is a sound strategy, says Mike Schiff, a principal with data warehousing consultancy MAS Strategies and a charter member of TDWI’s extended research collaborative. “It’s a reasonable argument. It’s the same argument they use when they say you should buy a BI tool from us, not a database vendor, because we work with every database,” he points out. “It will probably be one of the reasons why they survive. On the other hand, if you’re a pure Oracle shop or a pure open-source shop, you’re not going to feel great paying for this stuff. If you’re a pure open-source developer, you’re probably not going to give it another thought—unless you’re told you have to. But that’s really the point, isn’t it?”

The takeaway, Schiff argues, is that enterprise code jockeys don’t always get to pick and choose the technologies or standards with which they get to work. In organizations in which a range of programming languages, paradigms, and IDEs prevail, Schiff says, Crystal Reports—thanks to its ubiquity in both the programming and enterprise application segments—might comprise a magic bullet of sorts.

That’s what Business Objects representatives seem to hope, anyway. Johnson says there’s been no end of industry research—such as a recent study from programming consultancy Evans Data—which demonstrates that, if left to their own devices, J2EE developers are disproportionately apt to code their own basic reporting capabilities, or to avail themselves of open-source solutions, such as BIRT or JasperReports. In this respect, he concedes, Crystal Reports for Eclipse is unlikely to win over these programmers.

“[Crystal for Eclipse] really does almost cater to a different group of people,” he says. “We recognized in the Java space that our biggest competitor wasn’t really other solutions, but homegrown solutions, because [developers] weren’t really familiar with the other solutions that were available. So obviously, the Eclipse zealots will probably champion BIRT, and that’s fine, because what BIRT does is help raise awareness about reporting. So [developers] discover there’s more to it than just building your own [solution], or using a still pretty basic tool like BIRT.”

Johnson cites other research, also attributed to Evans Data, which indicates that developers often use more than one IDE. Crystal for Eclipse should appeal to these programmers, too: “Developers on average use about three IDEs, and a lot of developers actually still use Visual Studio and Eclipse as both their tools, and we are really the only solution out there that caters to both of those.”

And then there’s the scalability angle, says Jaylene Crick, Crystal Reports product marketing manager for Business Objects. “Crystal Reports is still the de facto standard, and we’re seeing that come up when we go to the conferences. If you want that sort of base reporting, BIRT does handle that, but there’s not a lot of opportunity once you hit the wall with BIRT. Crystal Reports, on the other hand, does have a full-on enterprise stack, so if you want to grow your reporting as you move up the stack, you can,” she concludes.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a contributing editor for Enterprise Systems. He can be reached at stephen.swoyer@spinkle.net.

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