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And now the other half of Business Intelligence – Drill Down!


First, I had hoped to have videos by now to show the ad-hoc queries in action. However, the person who is working on the videos had a bicycle accident last week and cracked a couple of ribs. He's ok except that he has allergies and it's pollen season – a sneeze is now an incredibly painful event for him. So he's recuperating at home and will be back this week to do the videos.

We originally struggled with this quite a bit. We had a drill-down tag but it was a mess where in the tag you defined the items to pass down to the soon to be created detail template. The tag required setting everything up for a template that did not exist and then creating the detail template. The order of work made sense based on how people thing of the problem – define the main template, then define the details you drill down into. But it meant a very complex U.I. in practice.

Then one of the developers proposed that users first define the detail template, then add the tag to the master template. And with that the entire process became very simple. The user points at the detail template and AutoTag then reads the template, determines what variables need to be defined to run the report, and then prompts the user to define those templates. And does so with the variables in the master template all available in drop-downs. So we have a very simple and straightforward way to define the drill-down tag.

BTW – If you're wondering about the skin in the screenshot, the default skin setting will use seasonal skins at different times of the year. For the month of May it is the springtime skin (this can of course be overridden). We also have seasonal skins for the 2 weeks before Valentine's Day, the 2 weeks before Halloween, and the months of July (summer) and December (holiday).

Custom Protocols

So we're good – no? Actually no.

We first tried placing the links in the template as "filename.docx /wr our parameters". Office does not like parameters it does not recognize. And even if it did, there is no way to get the parameters a document was loaded with. (You can get the parameters Office starts with, but we need this for a document loaded after Word/Excel/PPT has started.) This was our situation at the start of this week – a great system except we had no way to handle the link.

So we tried a number of approaches:

  1. Using the events that do exist in Office. Excel actually has an event to tell you a link was clicked on – but it advises you of a link already followed. We were not able to come up with anything that worked well of off the existing events.
  2. We looked at writing an ActiveX control. This does handle the problem as we get to handle clicks on the object, can draw it as blue text underlined, and can change the mouse to the pointing finger. But ActiveX controls are second class citizens at best in Office. They do not appears as text in the flow of a paragraph or cell. So workable but not pretty.
  3. We looked at creating VBA macros that would call our AddIn. We would then put the links in as calls to our macro. This is a cleaner approach than an ActiveX control, but still it's both somewhat complex (which means you can have problems) and it's not inline text like a hyperlink is.
  4. In addition approaches 2 & 3 have issues on Excel as Excel has hyperlinks tied to a cell, not to a range of text in a cell.
  5. We looked at watching the Windows message queue and from that determining when the mouse was over one of our links, and then handling both the cursor shape and intercepting clicks. This works, and everything looks right with the link being a true hyperlink. But I spent 3½ years as a senior developer on the Win95 team at Microsoft and we had to constantly adjust our code to make sure we didn't break all the apps that pulled unsupported tricks like this. This approach is inherently problematic.
  6. Finally, we looked at writing a small application to handle it, and then giving the filename in the links an extension mapped to this small application. We were leaning this way when…

One of my primary rules as a developer is that when I'm not sure what to do – ask for advice. So I asked around and one person recommended something that is perfect for our needs – a custom protocol handler. This is a very simple way to define a program to be called when the protocol for a link is a specific string. So we changed the protocol from file: to wrddp: (Windward Reports Drill Down Protocol) and we now have exactly what we want.

Word/Excel/PPT handle the link identically to an http:// or file:// link. It looks the same, it responds the same. But when the user clicks on it, the url is fed to our application and we then pass it back to AutoTag via named pipes. And then in AutoTag we then run the detail template passed in using the data values passed. And display the generated detail output.

What I like about this approach is we're implementing this using functionality in Windows and Office that was designed for exactly this use. So the solution is simple & solid.

We have about another 2 – 3 weeks to finish this up and complete internal testing, and then we'll be pushing it out for alpha testing (existing customers only). This will be the first real test of our approach to B.I. – actually using the product. Many love the concept, but it's in use where the rubber meets the road. With that said, based on our internal testing, I think people will find this so easy that it'll be faster drilling than the gopher in Caddy Shack.

For more, please follow me on Twitter.

If you've just discovered us, we're excited. Know more about Windward and get your 14-day free trial and start creating documents in quick time with our low/no code solutions.

Tags Start & End

Tags Can Start & End Anywhere

Appendix B

.NET code for multi-page image output

Appendix A

Java code for multi-page image output

Data Bin Search

The Data Bin can now be searched to find a table, column, node or other piece of data without scrolling through it all.

Shrink to Fit

This will shrink the contents of a cell until it fits the defined cell size.

Time Zone Conversion

A new Windward macro has been added to help with converting dates and times from UTC time to the local time zone.

Image Output Format

New image output formats added.

PostScript Output Format

PostScript, commonly used with printers and printing companies, has been added as an additional output format.

New and Improved Datasets (Designer, Java Engine, .NET Engine)

Datasets have been re-written from scratch to be more powerful and easier to use.

Stored Procedure Wizard (Designer)

This works for all tag types that are connected to a SQL-based data source (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, or DB2).

Boolean Conditional Wizard (Designer)

Before, conditional statements could only be written manually. Now they can also be built using our intuitive Wizard interface.

Reorganized Ribbon

The ribbon menus have been re-organized and consolidated to improve the report design workflow.

XPath 2.0 as Data Source

Adds various capabilities such as inequalities,descending sort, joins, and other functions.

SQL Select Debugger

SQL Select  Debugger

  • The look and feel was improved
  • Stored Procedure Wizard
  • Improved Exceptions pane

Tag Editor/Tag Selector

Added a Query tab as a field for typing or pasting in a select statement

  • Color Coding of Keywords
  • TypeAhead
  • Evaluate is now "Preview"

Rename a Datasource

All tags using that Data source will be automatically updated with that name.

Connecting to a Data Source

New single interface to replace 2 separate dialog boxes

Tag Tree

Displays of all the tags in the template, structured as they are placed in the template. This provides a simple & intuitive way to see the structure of your template. Also provides the capability to go to any tag and/or see the properties of any tag.

Added Javelin into the RESTful Engine

Support for Google Application Engine Integration

The ability to integrate the Windward Engine into Google’s cloud computing platform for developing and hosting web applications dubbed Google Applications Engine (GAE).

Additional Refinement for HTML Output

  • Improved indentation for ordered and unordered lists
  • Better handling of template header and footer images
  • Better handling for background images and colors

Redesigned PDF Output Support

This new  integration will allow for processing of complex scripts and bi-directional  text such as Arabic.  Your PDF output  will be much tighter and more closely match your template, and we’ll be able  to respond rapidly to PDF requests and fixes.

PowerPoint Support

Includes support for new ForEach and slide break handling, table header row repeat across slide breaks, and native Microsoft support for charts and images.

Tags are Color Coded

Tags are color coded in the template by type, making it easy to visually identify them.

Increased Performance

Version 13’s core code has been reworked and optimized to offer a reduced memory footprint, faster PDF generation and full documentation of supported features and limitations in the specifications for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX.

Advanced Image Properties

Documents can include advanced Word image properties such as shadows, borders, and styles.

Improved HTML Output

Windward has updated HTML output to reflect changing HTML standards.

Version 13 New Data Sources

Windward now works with a slew of new datasources: MongoDB, JSON, Cassandra, OData, Salesforce.com

Generate Code

The Generate Code tool in the designer allows you to open an existing template and, with a click of a button, automatically create a window with the code needed to run your current template with all data sources and variables. Simply copy this code and paste into your application's code in the appropriate place. You now have Windward integrated into your application.

You only need to do this once. You do not do this for each template. Instead, where it has explicit files for the template and output, change that to parameters you pass to this code. Same for the parameters passed to Windward. This example uses explicit values to show you what to substitute in where.

Pivot Tables Adjusted in Output

Any pivot tables in an XLSX template are carried over to the XLSX output. The ranges in the pivot ranges are adjusted to match the generated output. So your final XLSX will have pivot tables set as expected in the generated file.

This makes creating an XLSX workbook with pivot tables trivial.

Imported Template Can be Set to Match the Parent Styles

In an imported sub-template, if its properties for a style (ex. Normal) differ from the parent template's properties for the style, the use in the sub-template can be set to either use the properties in the sub-template, or the properties in the parent.

You set to retain when you don't want the child template's styling to change when imported. You set to use the parent when you want the styling of the imported template to match the styling in the parent.

Any explicit styling is always retained. This only impacts styling set by styles.

Tags can be Placed in Text Boxes

Tags can be placed in text boxes. Including linked text boxes. This gives you the ability to set the text in a textbox from your data.

Tags can be Placed in Shapes & Smart Art

Tags can be placed in shapes & smart art. This gives you the ability to set the text in a shape from your data.

HTML Output Supports Embedded Images

When generating HTML output, the engine can either write bitmaps as distinct files the generate HTML references, or it can embed the images in the HTML providing a single file for the output.

Footnotes & Endnotes can Have Tags

You can place tags in pretty much any part of a template, including in footnotes & endnotes.

Document Locking Supported in DOCX & XLSX

Any parts of a DOCX or XLSX (PowerPoint does not support this) file that are locked in the template, will be locked the same in the output.

Specify Font Substitution

If a font used in the template does not exist on the server generating a report, the font to substitute can be specified.
In addition, if a glyph to be rendered does not exist in the font specified, you can specify the replacement font. This can be set distinctly for European, Bi-Directional, and Far East fonts.

Process Multiple Datasources Simultaneously

If you need this - it's essential. And if you don't need it, it's irrelevant.

Windward enables you to build a document by applying multiple datasources to the template simultaneously. When Windward is merging the data into a template, it processes the template by handling each tag in order, and each tag pulls from different datasources. (As opposed to processing all of one datasource, then processing the next.)

This allows the select tag to use data from another datasource in its select. For example, if you are pulling customer information from one data source, you can then pull data from the sales datasource using the customer ID of the customer presently processing to pull the sales information for that customer. If you're interested in patching together your data from multiple datasources, read this post on our blog.

David Thielen

President/CEO at Windward Studios

From his early years as a Senior Developer at Microsoft, to legendary designer of the popular Enemy Nations strategy game, to reporting and document generation guru, Dave has never lost his passion for building superb software and teams.

Written by:_
David Thielen
President/CEO at Windward Studios
Windward © 2021 All Rights Reserved.


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