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Reporting Tools Comparison Matrix Essay

Pentaho Report Designer

The Pentaho Report Designer (PRD) is a WYSIWIG tool that lets you create reports using a graphical user interface, as opposed to creating reports by directly creating and manipulating XML. These reports can then be run by the Classic Engine or the Pentaho BI Server.

In general, our impression is that the usability and stability of PRD continues to improve. We feel that for simple to moderate reports PRD's usability is at part for most tasks with Jaspersoft Studio and BIRT.

Figure 3 - Pentaho Report Designer

PRD has much of the same functionality as the other report designers, as demonstrated by our Feature Comparison Grid. However, Pentaho Report Designer is different from the other report designers in a few major ways:

Neutral

  • Like Jaspersoft Studio, but different than BIRT, Pentaho uses “pixel positioning” as its central approach, and at its core it emphasizes paginated reports, as opposed to dynamic web layouts.
  • Pentaho relies on sub-reports to support reports with multiple queries, multiple group sections, and multiple data sources. This is different than BIRT, but the same as JasperReports.

Things We Like

  • Pentaho includes a nice, re-entrant report wizard for creating grouped listing reports. We found ourselves using it often to eliminate some of the tedious work involved in the initial layout of a report.
  • PRD can use Pentaho Data Integration (Kettle) as a source of data. Kettle is a Swiss Army Knife data ETL tool that allows developer to acquire and process data using a combination of pre-built graphical components and code as required. PRD has the native ability to retrieve data from a particular step within any Kettle transformation. Using Kettle with PRD allows developers to specialize on either the data acquisition or presentation, which we feel is a significant advantage over both BIRT and Jasper.

Areas for Improvement

  • Charting is more difficult and less full-featured with Pentaho than with either JasperReports or BIRT.
  • Crosstabs continue to be marked as experimental. Review of the Pentaho JIRA system indicated that a substantial amount of time was spent on crosstabs, unfortunately crosstabs have not reach a fully functional state in the three years since our last review. This may be partially explained by the presence of different tools within the Pentaho stack that can duplicate crosstab functionality, meaning that it is not strictly required within reporting.
  • The PRD property editor lags behind the property editors from both BIRT and Jaspersoft Studio. Both of those products provided dialog screens that provide guidance and structure to the property settings. PRD supports properties through a name/value pair list, that allows for sorting and hierarchy, our experience indicates that novice users find these lists more difficult to use than dialogs.

Figure 2 - Pentaho Property Editor

Pixel Positioning

The Pentaho Report Designer is in the “pixel positioning” school of report design. Like Jasper (and unlike BIRT) users specify precisely where each report element is to be displayed. This gives users fine-grain control over the look of a report, but also limits the report’s ability to adapt to different-sized displays. For example, if you want a report to look good when printed on an 8.5”x11” sheet of paper, then the report will only be as wide as a sheet of paper even when displayed on a widescreen monitor with lots more horizontal screen real estate.

Sub-Reports

Like Jasper, Pentaho is very dependent on sub-reports. If you want to use multiple grouping sections, multiple data sources, have side-by-side report components, or re-use the results of a query within a different section of a report, you need to use sub-reports.

While sub-reports are great for re-using report pieces across many different reports, requiring sub-reports for the above use cases adds unnecessary difficulty and complexity to the report design process:

  1. You need to gracefully hand parameters and sometimes query data between the master report and sub-report (and sub-sub-report, etc).
  2. Report Developers need to manually manage the dependency between the master report and sub-report files.
  3. Too many sub-reports can result in poor performance [KM6]because each sub-report opens its own thread, and queries. So, for example, if you have a sub-report within a group section that expands into 70 different groups, then the sub-report will initialize and run 70 times.
  4. Sub-reports need to be precisely designed so that their size fits exactly into the space provided by the master report

Report Wizard

The Pentaho Report Designer has the best built-in report design “wizard.” It’s great for getting beginning users started, allowing them to quickly create regular listing-style reports with up to four levels of grouping, skipping the tedious work of manually placing and formatting each individual report control. (see screenshots) An important thing about this wizard is that it is re-entrant, you can make changes by pulling up the wizard again.

Figure 3 - Pentaho Report Wizard

Charting

In Pentaho Report Designer, the process of creating a chart involves providing property values for a really large dialog box (see below screenshot). There is no wizard to take you through the process, unlike JasperReports or BIRT.  We find it interesting that Pentaho provides such an excellent report wizard but no charting wizard, and BIRT provides a great chart wizard but no report wizard. Jaspersoft Studio has middle-of-the road wizards for both reports and charts.

This is sufficient to create many types of charts, but does not offer as many levers to customize the report’s contents, look, and behavior as the other tools. Setting up the chart’s category, series, and values is difficult, as most of the time you cannot use pick-lists to choose the fields to use, and instead you have to type them into a pop-up window that doesn’t provide any guidance as to what you are supposed to type. Although the chart dialog seems to imply that you can just change the chart type by just clicking on the appropriate button along the top, when you do so you often lose the values you already typed in for category, series, etc. This can make it very frustrating to use.

Adding to the usability issues, there is no chart preview – you can’t see the results of what you created until you leave the Chart Dialog and actually run the report.

Figure 4 - Pentaho Chart Designer

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How to Use 6 Basic Charts to Create Effective Reports

Posted by FluidSurveys TeamSeptember 13, 2013Categories:  How-To Article, Best Practices, Response Analysis, Reporting

Communicating your study’s results to your co-workers, managers, and clients in a way that is both professional and easy to understand is a crucial skill for any researcher. Many studies with amazing results are not acted on or fall to the wayside because of its confusing report. In a report, charts go a long way in illustrating findings that are clear and concise.
Charts simplify data in a presentable and visually pleasing way. The main challenge with using charts is selecting the correct type from the wide variety available. Many people do not understand the strengths and weaknesses that come with each chart type, either deciding off the cuff which looks the nicest or staying in their comfort zone by overloading their report with pie or vertical bar charts. It is important for researchers to use the most effective chart to display their data results. This article will go over six basic charts and how to successfully implement them into your reports. Let’s get started!

1) Vertical Bar Charts

Vertical bar charts are best for comparing means or percentages between 2 to 7 different groups. As you can see, each bar is separated by blank space. For this reason, the x-axis should be based on a scale that has mutually exclusive categories (like multiple choice, or check box questions). Categories that are based on a continuous scale are better suited for a histogram, but we will look at those later. As for this chart, respondents were only able to select one distinct option (daily, weekly…) making its cross analysis with happiness perfect for a vertical bar chart.

2) Horizontal Bar Charts

The horizontal bar chart is used when comparing the mean or percentages of 8 or more different groups. As with the vertical bar chart, the horizontal bar chart should only be used when comparing categories that are mutually exclusive. In this chart, more than 7 categories of candy were measured independently and are being compared to one another.

3) Pie Charts

Pie charts are best used to illustrate a sample break down in a single dimension. In other words, it is best to use pie charts when you want to show differences within groups based on one variable. In the example above, we broke down the sample group into different age groups in order to show the significance of age on cotton candy sales. It is important to remember that pie charts should only be used with a group of categories that combine to make up a whole.

4) Line Charts

Line charts are used to illustrate trends over time. This is done most often to measure the long term progression of sales, or any other empirical statistic important to businesses or organizations. It can also be used to compare two different variables over time. In our example, we see how the increased government funding in healthy living correlates with candy sales over the span of 5 years.

5) Scatter Plot

Scatter plots are used to depict how different objects settle around a mean based on 2 to 3 different dimensions. This allows for quick and easy comparisons between competing variables. In our example chart above we can see how each candy compares to one another based on its cost to make and selling price. As a viewer, one can quickly reference the difference between two objects or its relation to the average, which is shown as the large square on the chart.

6) Histogram

Like pie charts, histograms break down the sample distribution in one dimension. The real difference between histograms and other forms of charts is that histograms are ideal for illustrating sample distributions on dimensions measured with discrete intervals. Unlike horizontal and vertical bar charts, the x-axis is not divided into mutually exclusive categories. In our example, the histogram indicates how many respondents fall into each range of candy consumed per week. The x-axis is a continuous scale, while each bar falls under a range of five units, or pieces of candy, on that scale.

The Power of Charts

Learning to use these 6 chart types effectively will make your reports both professional and clear. Though there are much more complex forms of charts for displaying data results, the ones discussed in this article are the most common and universally known. More complex charts types will most likely result in confusing viewers rather than impressing them. This is why many argue that harnessing the full potential of these better known chart types is a much more useful endeavour. So go ahead, experiment with these charts and bring your reports to the next level of excellence!

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