Product review: Open source reporting goes corporate
JasperServer Professional and Pentaho Reporting build on famous Java open source libraries for generating reports, but they’re no longer for developers only; rapidly gaining on traditional heavyweights, both score with user-friendly query tools and sophisticated front endsFollow @peterwayner
These glitches seem to indicate that both JasperSoft and Pentaho have decided that it's better to get bigger faster and fix the little inconsistencies later. Nothing I encountered prevented either system from working, but they were annoying. They may also indicate a potential cultural difference born of the open source roots. The programmers used to be able to count on users being programmers with access to the code. Little inconsistencies such as these are the ones that open source users are great at spotting and fixing. But now that these companies are pushing a commercial product, they need to realize they can't rely upon the fabled many eyeballs to be the QA department.
Open source advantage
Both companies say that they'll continue to be true to their open source roots. They say that you can use all of these new applications under either a commercial or an open source license, effectively following the same path as MySQL. This has a number of advantages for programmers and IT users because anyone can start experimenting with the tools and even start deploying the servers before they need to consider paying for a commercial license.
The terms of the licenses from both Pentaho and JasperSoft are designed to trade support and documentation for cash. The first time I started using JasperReports, I ended up buying the documentation, and I think many businesses and even low-budget hobbyists will do the same. JasperSoft, for instance, now offers a $295 annual subscription to its documentation.
One fascinating question is whether the open source core will atrophy by accident or by design. No one knows what these corporations will do over the years, but I see the open source core as a real advantage for these companies. Programmers can use the core tools to embed reports where they're needed, then turn around and use the same XML definition for the reports on the server products. The design of reports may even flow in the other direction if novices use the ad hoc tool to create the reports, then send the XML directly to the programmer. The open source core could produce some nice cross-fertilization.
The main competitors will be the reporting tools from Business Objects and Cognos, the big, sophisticated engines that have been the chief innovators over the last few years. The new efforts are largely gaining ground, and many of the features added to JasperServer and Pentaho are borrowed from these giants. The open source upstarts haven't caught up completely, but I think that many small and medium-size organizations would be quite happy with JasperSoft’s and Pentaho’s servers. The biggest organizations may still find that the major enterprise features for locking up data or confining it to particular groups is a bit easier with the leading applications, but the differences are slowly disappearing.
There are less obvious competitors. OpenReports, for instance, is a professional report manager that supports the JasperReports and JFreeReport cores. It will schedule reports and e-mail them at specific times. There's not much of an ad hoc report creator and the menu structure can be a bit clunky at times, but the professional price is a mere $495, and there's an open source version with most of the same capabilities. The low end is brutal competition from application software developers.
There are also free, nonopen competitors. LogiXML, for instance, offers a low-end version of its system with many of the same report scheduling features. It doesn't come with the source code, but you can run the entry-level version at no cost.
Still, the work that's gone into the JasperServer and Pentaho Reporting packages is phenomenal. These open source hybrid solutions are fast catching up with the major players and offering a level of sophistication that was never available in the open source reporting world. As they continue to implement most of the features available from the biggest commercial rivals, their new offerings will give corporate IT managers a good reason to check them out.