Open Source Reporting Review - BIRT, Jaspersoft, Pentaho
There are a number of open source business intelligence (BI) and reporting tools available. The three open source projects with the most traction in the BI space are:
- Eclipse Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT)
- Jaspersoft® Community Edition
- Pentaho® Community Edition
Innovent Solutions has performed periodic comparisons of the reporting portion of these tools starting in 2010 with an update in 2012. In 2015, we have decided to revisit the reporting products to evaluate what has changed and to update our comparison. A common feedback on our past comparisons has been that we focus on reporting, to the exclusion of all of the other features required by a complete BI solution. In 2015, this feedback is even more relevant than in the past. Over the last five years we have found most customer BI initiatives are looking for more than reporting: data exploration, analytics, visualization, and a rich dashboard experience are typically expected features for today's business intelligence consumers. We see the rapid growth of commercial products such as Tableau and QlikView as a clear reflection of this trend. That said, we have continued our practice of focusing on reporting for two simple reasons. First, reporting is a common baseline function required in most BI projects. Second, reports have a limited scope, making it easier to do an equal comparison of the products.
A significant new trend has been the acquisition of all three open source BI companies within the last 12 months.
- Jaspersoft was acquired by TIBCO Software in May of 2014
- Actuate was acquired by OpenText Software in January of 2015
- Pentaho has a pending acquisition by Hitachi Data Systems that is expected to close during Q2 of 2015
It is too early to determine the full impact of these acquisitions on the respective open source projects, but indications are that the acquiring companies will continue to support the open source projects. We have no doubt that the companies will not deliberately damage their open source communities, but the dedication and financial resources required to grow and nurture an open source community cannot be overlooked.
- Will the companies actively engage the community for software contributions?
- Will the companies continue to dedicate development resources to the project?
- Will the companies continue to build open source communities and user groups?
Our hope is that the companies will answer yes to all of these questions and will continue to use the open source model to innovate within the business intelligence field, but only time will tell for sure.
Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) announced on February 11, 2015 its intention to purchase Pentaho software. HDS has a history of commitment to open source software. This includes participation on various open source projects such as OpenStack and Linux Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM). HDS also maintains a section of its community portal dedicated to open source. HDS appears to have the biggest historical record of participation within, and contribution and support for, open source projects.
TIBCO Software purchased Jaspersoft in May of 2014. Prior to Jaspersoft, TIBCO's most significant previous contribution to open source software appears to be the TIBCO General Interface™ code that was donated to the DOJO foundation in 2009. While still early, it appears that TIBCO Jaspersoft remains committed to the Jaspersoft open source community with two new product releases (5.6 and 6.0) each providing full support for the community editions. TIBCO Jaspersoft's public announcements indicate a continued support for Jaspersoft in its commercial and community editions as a stand-alone product. It will be interesting to see how TIBCO manages Jaspersoft and Spotfire (TIBCO's data discovery and visualization tool). To quote Brian Gentile, Sr. Vice President & General Manager, TIBCO Analytics Product Group (formerly CEO at Jaspersoft):
"These two tools (Jaspersoft and Spotfire) are extremely complementary, so you can expect, over time, one tool to help the other be even stronger in its primary category (Jaspersoft in embedded reporting and analytics and Spotfire in data discovery and visualization)."
OpenText Corp finalized its acquisition of Actuate, the most significant sponsor of the BIRT project, in January of 2015. OpenText is Canada's largest software company, and has grown largely through the acquisition of software firms. To date, none of OpenText's acquisitions have involved a company that was leading a major open source initiative such as BIRT. In the public announcements, OpenText has referenced the value of BIRT's 3.5 million open source developers, so our assumption is that they will want to continue to support the BIRT project.TOP
Project Activity Analysis
Each of the open source projects relies on a single sponsor company that is the primary contributor of source code and support for the open source community. These companies all provide commercial alternatives to their open source projects which provide features that are not available to the open source community. Over the last three years, it appears that the sponsor companies were primarily focused on the development of differentiating features in their commercial products. At a high level, the companies differentiate commercial from open source products through these features:
- Web-based user defined reporting (ad hoc)
- Analytic data exploration and visualization
- Interactive dashboards
These features go beyond the basic open source reporting that we review in this article. It also has meant that the rate of development in the open source reporting tools has slowed over the last three years.
Changes in Jaspersoft
Of the three projects, Jaspersoft have been the most active with the move to the Eclipse-based Jaspersoft Studio report designer. When we last visited the space in 2012, Jaspersoft Studio was in version 1.1 and had fewer features than the flagship iReport Designer. Since then, Jaspersoft Studio has caught up with and passed the features of iReport, which was given an iReport end of life date of December 31, 2015. As such, our comparison has changed to focus on Jaspersoft Studio.
It is clear given the activity over the last year that TIBCO remains committed to the development of its Jaspersoft Studio product as seen by the continued development of its open source software.
Figure 1 - JasperSoft Studio Software Commits per Month as reported by OpenHUB
Changes in BIRT
BIRT has seen the most significant slowdown in development with relatively few new features added to the project since 2012. Actuate however appears to be committed to the open source project, with a recent surge in bug fixes and commits since November of 2014. That said, there are no major enhancements or improvements planned for the annual June release as part of the Eclipse Simultaneous release process. It is encouraging to see the surge in activity on the BIRT project, starting in Q4 of 2014 which indicates that Actuate is still committed to maintaining the quality of its open source BIRT project.
Figure 2 - BIRT Software Commits per Month as reported by OpenHub
Changes in Pentaho Reporting
Pentaho Report Designer development has slowed considerably from the rapid pace between 2010 and 2012. Improvements have continued with some new features and a variety of performance enhancements at a steady pace. Several significant features, such as crosstabs, have seen significant activity but are still marked as experimental. This seems to reflect the smaller role of reporting within the BI stack as well as Pentaho's focus on other portions of it's product stack which can deliver crosstab functionality.
In 2013, Pentaho reporting changed their version control from Subversion to GitHub. Unfortunately, it appears that Open HUB may be missing some of the commits to the project. Our analysis of the commits as seen through inspection of GitHub and JIRA does not match the commits as measured by Open HUB, we have included the Open HUB graphic, but note this may be somewhat misleading.
Figure 3 - Pentaho Reporting Commits per Month as reported by OpenHubTOP
Report Designer Conclusions
A lot has changed in the open source BI world over the last three years, but most of the changes have occurred outside of the scope of our analysis of the reporting tools. Perhaps the largest change has been the shift away from reporting towards data exploration, visualization, and interactive dashboards, which are primarily achieved through commercial aspects of these open source projects. Indications are that the reporting tools portion of the open source market will continue to slow with little new innovation.
Of the three open source reporting tools, Jaspersoft Studio has seen the most development. Pentaho Report Designer has seen consistent development, but needs to finish out some experimental features. BIRT has had the fewest new features added, but recent activity suggests a strong commitment to the open source project.
In terms of overall capability, our opinion is that all three products have drawn close to parity. Each product has its strengths and at the same time, certain aspects of each project can be challenging, leaving room for improvement. Our opinion is that each projects strengths and weaknesses make it more suitable to some tasks than its competitors. In terms of a reporting-focused tool, these are our high level recommendations:
- BIRT's continues to provide the strongest report development tool. BIRT's greatest strengths are in its ease of use and the completeness of features. If you are looking for a tool that allows report developers to create reports using a thick client application which will be deployed into an existing Java application framework, it is hard to beat BIRT. BIRT provides the easiest way to create reports that are focused on delivery over the web.
- BIRT has two main weaknesses. First, BIRT is primarily focused on reporting instead of analytics, if you are looking to work with OLAP data, BIRT will not be appropriate. Second, BIRT lacks an open source server component and therefore if you are looking for a complete web-based BI solution BIRT is not the best choice.
- Jaspersoft Studio provides an outstanding and widely used report development tool that can easily be deployed either through the Jaspersoft Server community edition or through the JasperReports Library to an existing application. A particular strength of Jaspersoft is the way it works with data passed to the report as plain old java objects (POJOs). Jaspersoft is also the best product if your primary focus is to deliver printed reports.
- Jaspersoft's chart engine is significantly weaker than BIRT although we prefer Jaspersoft's implementation of JFreeCharts over Pentaho's. Jaspersoft's Table Of Contents for large report navigation is also more difficult to use than either BIRT or Pentaho. Finally, we found Jaspersoft's SQL editor to be the least developer friendly.
Pentaho Report Designer
- Pentaho Report Designer has particular strengths around its outstanding reporting wizard and the ease of use to create simple to moderate reports. Its ability to connect to and manipulate virtually any data through its Pentaho Data Integration (Kettle) data source is a distinguishing feature.
- Pentaho's charts implementation and crosstab component (experimental) need to improve to reach parity with the other products. If you are looking for one tool that is reporting-focused, we would choose either BIRT or Jasper over Pentaho.
NOTE: We did our best to present a fair and balanced evaluation of the products. Please Contact Us with any comments or thoughts that you would like to share.
Please explore the following links for detailed analysis of each project.TOP
BIRT® is a registered trademark of the Eclipse Foundation, Inc.
Jaspersoft Studio®, JasperReports® and JasperReports Server® are registered trademarks of TIBCO.
Pentaho® is a registered trademark of Pentaho Corporation.