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Comparison of Actuate BIRT & Windward Studios

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TL;DR

Actuate was an open source product and the many hands that designed the different parts shows in that it is not consistent across the designer. It’s also very developer focused so you pretty much need to be a developer to understand it and use it. It’s really an Eclipse AddOn. If you’re a Java developer (that uses Eclipse) and you want to create reports from your code, Actuate can work well. But outside of that, or if you want advanced smart document, layout, or formatting functionality, you will find Actuate limited.

--Dave T.

Comparisons & Features of Two Top Document Generation Tools

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With each BIRT design operation, users encounter a steep learning curve due to numerous menus and outdated interfaces.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 Designer 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.

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.

With BIRT, 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.

With Windward 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.

Feature

Windward Studios

Actuate BIRT

Conditional Logic
IF/ELSE/SWITCH/CASE
IF/ELSE
Backwards Compatibility
Templates are compatible with older versions and platforms (.NET or Java).  Tags are automatically upgraded on first run.
Customization
Free form design allows users to intuitively make layout and formatting changes in Office a tool they know.  Create modern looking reports that impress clients
Data Selection
Drag/Drop Intuitive SQL, XPath and OData wizards make selecting data as easy as creating an email filter
Data Source Connectivity

All SSRS supported data sources plus...

  • File Based (XML, XLSX, Access)
  • Web Based (Salesforce, JSON, REST)
  • Big Data (MongoDB, Cassandra)
    Continued support of emerging  datasources
SQL Databases (via JDBC or ODBC), Flat Files(XML, CSV, TSV, SSV, PSV), Big Data(MongoDB, Cassandra, Hadoop), Scripted(POJO/DAO, EJB, XML Stream)
Data Sources

All SQL supported data sources plus...

  • File Based (XML, XLSX, Access)
  • Web Based (Salesforce, JSON, REST)
Design Environments
  • Microsoft Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • BIRT Designer (Pro) (Eclipse IDE)
  • Actuate 360 (Web based BI)
Interview Capability

Not Supported

Learning Curves

Easily design template in tools you know through the Microsoft Office Suite, create tags with drag and drop design/wizards.

Open Formats

Templates and Output created to specifications allowing editing in native applications.  Open Office and make layout changes at any time.

Output Formats

PDF, Printer, HTML, DOCX, WORDML, RTF, XLSX, XLS, PPTX, TXT, PostScript, EPS, SVG, PNG, JPG, GIF, BMP, CSV

Reporting Components Reuse

Windward PODs

BIRT Report Library Components
Server

Windward provides the user with live support (phone, email, & forum), tutorials, free webinars, comprehensive documentation, strong internet presence, and more.

Server

Library can be deployed via .NETor Java (Office does not need to be installed)

Requires Java platform for API calls; Java API can be referenced via .NET code but not easily
Template Formats

DOCX, XLSX, PPTX, HTML

Proprietary File Formats, Report Designer File (.reportdesign), Template Design File (.rpttemplate)

Summary

Windward offers convenience and a host of ease-of-use features unavailable to BIRT users.

With Windward you can:

  • Document Lifecycle
    BIRT provides a complete line of products and services to cater to each component of the document lifecycle. Windward focuses on template design and document generation.
  • Design Responsibility
    With BIRT, the entire process is designed to keep report development in the hands of developers, and generation and analysis in the hands of end users. With Windward, developers code the Engine, but business professionals can design, generate and analyze output.
  • File Formats
    BIRT’s standalone apps require proprietary template format, and a user must install applications to view, update or run a report template. Windward uses Office file formats, for all to view.
  • Layout & CSS Support
    In BIRT, you are cannot apply multiple columns or use custom CSS styles inHTML reports. Windward allows both (using CSS 2.0 for reports generated in HTML).
  • Installation
    The BIRT Designer is a massive 500 MB that requires extra system resources. Windward’s Designer is about 100 MB (mostly samples) and integrates directly into Microsoft Office.
  • Design Platform
    BIRT Studio allows users to design reports in a web browser. Windward design occurs in Office, with Web design functionality due out soon.

Reporting for high-volume output and a familiar user-friendly design environment

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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.