Industry news: Review - BI Publisher
An Abysmal Experience with BI Publisher This article summarizes my experience with Oracle’s Business Intelligence Publisher, Release 10.1.3.2. If you have no time for the whole article – maybe you’ve started working with BI Publisher yourself – then I’ll tell you right off the bat, my experience with BI Publisher was a nightmare! It began as most dreams do: pleasant, fanciful thoughts of a truly easy to use interface danced through my head; excitement filled me as I day dreamed about co-workers praising me for my great work; finally, I arrived at what appeared to be the dream (i.e., BI Publisher); and then things started getting scary. I was a bit hesitant since the product was made by Oracle – ever spent two weeks trying to get your Oracle database set up? – but I didn’t turn back. It sounded like it was going to be a really great package! “Choose Your Design Tool.” “Data from Anywhere.” “Deliver to Anywhere.” “Open Standards. Easy Integration.” Overwhelmed by awe, I clicked the download link and proceeded into the darkness. Once I got my free trial and started reading the installation manual I came face to face with the first nightmare creature. Post installation tasks. Extra work. Shudder. Actually, each one of the post installation tasks are optional, which is relieving because they don’t have to be done, however, if they aren’t done, you won’t get the whole BI Publisher. Why would anyone pay for what they’re not going to use? Well, some have sold their souls to the devil have a lot of Oracle products and feel very compelled to stick buy more. That’s probably the best reason out there, and it’s not a good one. Obviously, I was just going to have to do the work and hope it was not too hard. First, I began with the core installation and found that it’s a piece of cake! Whether you chose to set up your application on a J2EE server or as a standalone application, it’s no big deal, and everything goes smoothly. Then I moved on to the Scheduler. You have to setup a database for it. When you reach this point, one of two things will happen. Either you will just clench your teeth and get it over with, or you will start banging your head on the wall because you don’t have an Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server database, and there are no instructions for setting up the Scheduler on any other kind. Fortunately for me, I did have an SQL Server database, but that didn’t save me a whole lot of pain. After I configured the new database for the Scheduler, I was racking my brains trying to figure out one question. WHY THE HELL DOESN’T THIS WORK?! I just followed the instructions in the manual and could not, for the life of me, get the Scheduler installed. What was the problem? No idea, but the important thing here is that BI Publisher’s data source connection method sucks! Not only did I have trouble with this Scheduler database, I couldn’t get ANY database connected to BI Publisher! So not only did I not get a Scheduler, I didn’t get any demo database files either. Of course, they do supply a fair set of XML data sources, so I went on with my evaluation to see what designing reports would be like with BI Publisher. You know those scenes in horror flicks where some crazy person decides to go into the dark alley, and you’re shouting at the screen “No, you idiot! Don’t do it! The killer is in there!” Yeah. That’s kind of like what I did by continuing with this evaluation. I should have just run the other way until my legs gave out. You see, report designing with BI Publisher is not a pleasant experience because it basically means writing XSL code. Lots of it. If you don’t know what XSL is, STAY AWAY! XSL stands for eXtensible Stylesheet Language, and is used for formatting documents. Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Hey, if that’s what it’s for, doesn’t that mean it’s perfect for designing reports?” Well, it’s true that it makes sense to use XSL for such an application, but that doesn’t make it a good solution for report designing. XSL is a big, scary monster, and since there are report designer programs out there that don’t force you to deal with it, there’s no reason to use it. Some report designers let you drag-and-drop information and objects into your report and provide all kinds of interactive button screens that help you build components, but lock you in to a sectioning scheme that forces you to lay things in certain places. Other report designers give you total control over your layout by having you design it in a word processing application like Microsoft Word, and then adding tags to the document that manipulate the layout and add data. BI Publisher takes the latter approach so that you get total freedom, but they don’t have any tools that help you out with the tag construction, and there are way too many tags for you to remember. I will admit, the level of control you get over the layout is good, but I had to build myself a tag reference, and when you finish your document, it looks like XSL vomited all over the place! You can hide the XSL in form fields, but that only applies if you’re using Word and not some other word processor, and I never did it because it just slows you down. Oracle does offer a way to speed things up a bit and relieve some of the pressure of using XSL tags. The tool is an add-in for Word called the Template Builder. Downloading and installing it is the final post installation task, and it’s actually a relatively simple one, but I had trouble here too. There’s a link in the main application that you can click to download the installer, and then you just run that installer and watch it go to work. Of course, things didn’t work out that way for me. I ran the installer, but right at the end of the installation, the installer would cause a Word process to open, and since Word was open, it would fail to install. I finally did get it to install on a Server 2003 virtual machine just to test it out, but that is totally ridiculous since users wouldn’t be using Server 2003. The installation manual just left me ripping my hair out as it gave no explanation of what to do when the installer failed, so, until I decided to put it on Server 2003, I just tested out all of the report design features. It turns out that designing reports with the Template Builder is not really different from designing reports without the Template Builder except for a couple of important things. If you want to include a chart in your template, you have to use the BI Publisher Beans DTD and write out all of the code for the chart. It’s really a terrible thing. The Template Builder automates the process of building a chart though, which is awesome! This feature alone makes the Template Builder a must have for reducing blood pressure levels to safe values. In addition to helping build charts, it helps build cross-tab tables, which is also very valuable for saving time, but beyond these two features, there really isn’t much more that you’ll get out of the Template Builder that is noteworthy. You’re still going to be marking up the template with XSL and hating every minute of your job because of it. Writing XSL for a job. Now that is a nightmare! The fact that BI Publisher forces you to write XSL by hand and the fact that installing BI Publisher is a pain in the ass aren’t the only reasons that you shouldn’t use it. BI Publisher is outrageously slow. It seemed like every time I clicked a button the little clock icon would pop up, sitting there staring at me, almost as though it was telling me exactly how much time I was wasting. I swear, after my experiences with BI Publisher, every time I see an alarm clock, I loose my mind, running at it with blind rage, snarling, shouting and screaming at the top of my lungs. Then I smash that clock to pieces with my bare hands! Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but then again, the nightmare is enough to drive you over the top. If you’re masochistic, really enjoy XSL, or just have a lot of time to kill, go ahead. Use BI Publisher. If instead, you dislike pain, like easy to use interfaces, and want to get things done efficiently, find a different reporting solution.
Dear Tomas, I am a development manager for BI Publisher and very sorry you had an unpleasant experience with BI Publisher. The Template Builder usually warns you that Word is open and ask you to close it - possible you have opened it during the installation process? Nevertheless you should not have any problems with the installation failing. If you provide me with a way to contact you, I would like to find out what the problem is that you are facing with the scheduler and the template builder. In general, if you are still interested in BI Publisher I can strongly recommend for you the BI Publisher BLOG: http://blogs.oracle.com/xmlpublisher/ and the BI Publisher Forum http://forums.oracle.com/forums/forum.jspa?forumID=245 We have a quite active community that is usually very helpfully. I understand that XSL-FO is not to everybody's liking, but it comes with following a standard. Hardly any other solution follows an open standard. Learning a new language is always harder than using what you are used to before. Most user consider the ability to define the basic layout in Word as a huge advantage - over having to learn how to arrange objects in other reporting solutions. I can get any business user to provide me Word document on how a business document (invoice) should look like - and I can start with the complete layout of my document. Regarding performance, we are not aware of any faster XSL-FO rendering engine. In internal test we did most of the time beat other solutions. We can handle XML in excess of 6GB, created 50-90,000 page documents and are used by major cooperations around the globe to run their invoices and payments. Again I apologize for your bad experience. There is, however, a substantial user group who overcome the issues that you mentioned and that consider BI Publisher an outstanding tool. Best regards, Klaus
I installed BI publisher in WAS 7.0. successfully. but can't get the web center using the following urls:
If you're looking for an alternative to B.I. Publisher that is a lot easier to use, please take a look at Windward. No server to install/administer. No XSL to write. It just very simply uses Word (or Excel/PowerPoint) to design the template.