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Actuate pushes open-source data reporting

The software maker proposes open-source Java-based reporting tools for consideration by the Eclipse open-source foundation.

Software maker Actuate on Tuesday proposed a project within the Eclipse open-source foundation to create freely available business intelligence and reporting software.

If accepted as an Eclipse project, the initiative would result in open-source software to design and generate business reports from Java application servers. A vote at Eclipse on whether to accept the proposal, called the Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT) project, is slated for one month from now.

Actuate, which sells reporting software, also said it has become a board member of the Eclipse open-source foundation and will dedicate at least seven engineers to the planned project. The company also intends to create commercial products based on the software that comes out of BIRT.

Actuate executives on Tuesday said that BIRT would be the first open-source project dedicated to business intelligence and reporting. They said that BIRT project members would create reporting software from scratch rather than build off an existing product. Business intelligence and reporting tools are used for creating and disseminating reports that compile company data, such as the previous day's sales.

The BIRT software will be designed to work with the Eclipse software, which provides a single shell in which programmers can use several development tools. Eclipse has seen a surge in popularity over the past two years and is now used by 35 percent of Java developers, according to Eclipse executive director Mike Milinkovich.

BIRT intends to create an Eclipse add-on that will let programmers designate how reports should look and what data sources they will tap into. Project participants will also build server software for generating reports that can be embedded into Java application servers.

Actuate stands to benefit from the open-source project even though the software will be given away for free, executives said.

"The more people we can bring on board with reporting, the bigger the market will be and the better it will be for Actuate," said Mike Thoma, Actuate's vice president of product marketing.

He also noted that open-source reporting software will act as a "balance" to the reporting software bundled with Microsoft's development tools. Microsoft has a reporting server included in the enterprise version of its SQL Server database.

"Actuate's ploy is to try to seed the market with open-source," said Philip Russom, an analyst at Forrester Research. "It's analogous to what Crystal Decisions did many years ago: it seeded the market when Crystal Reports was included in the box with (Microsoft's) Visual Basic."