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Comparison of Microsoft Crescent and AutoQuery

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Microsoft Crescent is a really cool Business Intelligence tool. Once everything is in place using it is incredibly easy and intuitive. And you can very easily play around with data to see what is going on. The most impressive to me is where you can have a chart animate and change over time so you can see the change in X/Y values over time. Super cool.

Add in Report Builder and you have a really good B.I. stack. (Report Designer too but that is a developer tool that is nice, but nothing great.) Again really powerful ways to set up data to perform ad-hoc queries on. ReportBuilder does a good job of providing a lot of control while keeping it pretty easy to use. You definitely need to be a power user, but you don't need to be a developer.

So how does Windward AutoQuery stack up against these? While I would like to say we're clearly superior, I have to admit that Crescent is comparable to AutoQuery. We're better in some ways, they're better in others. But to a large degree we're similar. Microsoft has done a really good job here and we're going to have to put in a lot of additional effort to surpass Crescent.

Which Business Intelligence tool to Use?

So which should you use? The simplest criteria is what you have installed. If you have SharePoint 2010, Sql Server Denali, etc. all installed then you have Crescent up and running. Use Crescent.

On the flip side if you do not have some (or all) of the required Crescent components installed and you just want to quickly get ad-hoc B.I., then use AutoQuery. In this case the Crescent route will require a lot of time and effort to install, configure, and administer all the components in the Crescent stack. For AutoQuery you install it on your workstation and you're in business.

How much control do you need over layout? With Crescent you have tables, cards, & graphs and you can arrange those blocks beside each other. That makes layout/report format simple, but also limited. With AutoQuery you are designing in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint so you can have any layout you wish.

What do you wish to display? With Crescent you have tables, cards, & graphs and that's it. If you want something else such as paragraphs of narrative text independent of a cell then you can't do that. Again with AutoQuery what you display can be anything.

Do you need to edit the semantic layer regularly? Both systems make that easy. But AutoQuery also gives you the option of directly querying the underlying data directly rather than having to edit the semantic model. I think it's better to edit the semantic model regardless (I'm a programmer) but if you want the option of going directly, only AutoQuery provides that.

Crescent does not have drill-down which I think is really weird. I think their approach is you would create another chart/table and when you click on an item in one chart, you see the detail on the other. But there are a lot of cases where clicking on an item you want to see a new set of detailed charts/table for that specific item. If you want that, AutoQuery is your only choice.

If you like the model of clicking on a specific item in a chart or table and having the other charts/tables display data for that one item, then Crescent is what you want. Both Crescent and AutoQuery support the mode where you select variable values from a list/tree and build all elements from that variable selection. (But come back in 3 months – we have some work on interactive charts that we started well before we saw Crescent. I think that will give us a nice advantage on this part.)

Crescent vs. AutoQuery

And with all the specifics above I think it comes down to two main items. First Crescent is a bit simpler to use, but in return is limited in functionality compared to AutoQuery. So the question is will simple work well for you?

And second it's the effort to install/configure/administer Crescent vs. none of that for AutoQuery. I think this is the key issue. If your company has Crescent in place and running – use it. It's all there, you have peers you can ask for help, and it gets the job done. If you do not have Crescent in place, then go with AutoQuery and avoid all the time and effort that would be required to install Crescent.

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

Provides a display of all the tags in the template, structures as they are placed in the template. Provides an easy way to see the structure, go to any tag, and see the properties of a 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

Designer (fka AutoTag) Generate Code tool 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 in your .NET or Java project. The process is quick, shortens delivery time and helps alleviate any bumps in the road.

Pivot Tables Adjusted in Output

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

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, ot the properties in the parent.

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

When Windward is merging the data into a template, it process the template handling each tag in order, and the tags can pull from different datasources. This allows the select in a tag to use data from other datasources in the select.

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.

david@windward.nethttps://www.linkedin.com/in/davethielen/
This blog was written by:_
David Thielen

For over 10 years, Windward has lead the industry with our world-class document generation platform that creates visually stunning, data-powered documents designed exactly the way users want and are created in a fraction of the time and cost compared to existing solutions. Proudly located in Boulder, Colorado, Windward Studios is the premier solution for developers and business users adding reporting and document generation capabilities to their applications in over 70 countries around the world.

© 2019 Windward Studios Inc.

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