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Open source makes BI market move

With the help of Eclipse and Actuate, business intelligence is capturing the attention of the open source community.

With an announcement this week supporting the Eclipse Foundation's push into the business intelligence (BI) market, Actuate has opened the door to open source BI.

Eclipse -- an open source development organization with support from major IT vendors such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and SAP AG -- has released version 1.0 of its Business Intelligence and Reporting Tool (BIRT). South San Francisco-based Actuate Corp. in turn has released a package of services, support, indemnification and maintenance to support BIRT.

"[Actuate] probably feels the BI market as it stands is relatively saturated," said Bernard Golden, CEO of open source consulting firm Navica Inc., based in San Carlos, Calif. "They can expand the market a lot coming in with a product that doesn't have the price points of traditional, proprietary BI."

The BIRT project leverages the 1.5 million Java developers already using the Eclipse platform. Similar to its Actuate partnership, BIRT intends to partner with other commercial projects, said Ian Skerrett, director of marketing.

"I think open source is going to impact BI market and this is the first wave of that," said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Eclipse.

The BIRT tool was made available last week and already has had a preview edition downloaded more than 9,000 times. The tool offers a desktop environment for designing reports, an engine to generate reports within Java applications and application program interfaces to extend and integrate the tool. Users can create BIRT reports in HTML or .pdf formats in a matter of hours, as opposed to intensive hand coding, according to Eclipse.

By joining with Eclipse, Actuate offers commercial backing for users cautious about deploying open source, providing some stability and, because of its help developing the product, legal protection against vendors claiming ownership of the code.

"We think we made the right call in choosing the perfect [company] to partner with in Eclipse," said Mike Thoma, vice president of marketing with Actuate. "We really like that model and what IBM has done in using open source as a vehicle to change the dynamics of the marketplace."

And the company could find some success with open source in the BI marketplace, Golden said.

"I think BI is really well suited for open source," he said. "It's typically a 'nice-to-have' not a 'must-have' technology. The challenge for BI has been it's very expensive. On the flip side, open source gets it out of that low priority area. Once people start using BI, they find out a lot about their business. It sort of proves itself in action. Traditionally you've have to decide what you want, then write a big check."

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