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Comparison: Actuate BIRT vs. Windward


The Windward Embedded Solution and Actuate BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools) are two
popular software tools used globally for template creation and document generation. Both tools were launched
in the early 2000’s, and while Windward has remained focused on the intricacies of template design, Actuate
BIRT has expanded into a focused Business Intelligence and Analytics ecosystem. This abundant, overlapping,
and often confusing portfolio of tools covers the entirety of the document lifecycle, including template design.

When you begin to use the BIRT Designer or Studio, you can tell by the lack of polished interface,
documentation, architecture and marketing materials that it originated as open source software. It was created
by developers for developers focused on progressive design, and that emphasis has not changed. If you’ve
worked with the Eclipse IDE, you’ll feel at home: the BIRT Designer is simply Eclipse in Actuate “clothes,” with a
few extra features. Sadly, BIRT also shares the same drawback as Eclipse, which is a lack of an intuitive interface.

With each BIRT design operation, users encounter a steep learning curve due to numerous menus and outdated
interfaces. Even the smallest formatting task can be cumbersome and time consuming. Publishing templates is
much easier, as BIRTs iHub is a modern web 2.0 application that is easy and intuitive for end users. End users
can reuse and share BIRT’s template report library components through iHub to create ad-hoc reports and
dashboards directly in a web browser with BIRT Studio.

The Windward Solution template designer (AutoTag) sits squarely in Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint or
Excel) and delivers a comparatively easy design experience. All options, such as charts, images, styles, and
tables, are available at the click of a button. Connection wizards, reusable library components (PODs) and drag
and drop functionality simplify the template design process. Unlike BIRT, Windward uses non-proprietary file
formats and easily works with Java and .NET platforms. Documents are published through the Windward Engine,
a component that can be embedded into any web, mobile, or desktop application in as few as 14 lines of code.

Example: Financial Documents 

A financial institution needs to generate wealth management portfolios for its entire
client base. Each portfolio consists of multiple documents, some of which are
conditionally added and all of which must include client-specific data. 

, developers collect the report requirements from their portfolio managers
and translate those into a template they build inside of BIRT and the Eclipse IDE. They
save portions of the template and the template itself to be uploaded and stored in the
secure BIRT iHub. The portfolio managers can then use the iHub server to run reports
and use the saved portions to make limited changes to the templates. In the end, developers are responsible for
most of the report design, and the portfolio managers must request and wait on non-trivial report updates. 

the process is far more automated. The portfolio managers design the templates in Word,
using Windward to manually drag and drop fields or PODs to embed predefined report segments. They can
create variable filters and SQL queries (without knowing SQL) to display the current client data. The developers
build the Windward Engine into a custom stand-alone or web-based in-house application that uses the data
sources and templates to generate custom reports. Whenever needed, the portfolio managers use the
application to generate large batches of accurate client documents in a fraction of the time.

Comparison Table

Table comparing the features of Actuate BIRT vs. Windward


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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.

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