Every once in awhile, I get to review a book on a technology or software package I've not heard of before. That was the case with BIRT: A Field Guide to Reporting by Diana Peh, Alethea Hannemann, and Nola Hague. I'm stunned at the quality and depth of this open-source Eclipse reporting tool. Oh, and the book's pretty good, too... :)
Part 1 - Installing BIRT: Prerequisites for BIRT; Installing a BIRT Report Designer; Updating a BIRT Installation
Part 2 - Getting Started: Learning the Basics; Planning Your Report
Part 3 - Connecting to a Data Source; Retrieving Data; Binding Data
Part 4 - Designing Reports: Laying Out a Report; Displaying Text; Formatting Report Content; Sorting and Grouping Data; Aggregating Data; Writing Expressions; Filtering Data; Enabling the User to Filter Data; Building a Report That Contains Subreports; Using a Chart in a Report; Displaying Data in Charts; Laying Out and Formatting a Chart
Part 5 - Enhancing Reports: Designing a Multipage Report; Adding Interactive Viewing Features; Building a Shared Report Development Framework; Localizing Text; Glossary; Index
BIRT stands for Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools, and it runs on the Eclipse platform. Running as a plug-in or using the Rich Client Platform, BIRT will allow the user to create reports from various data sources like JDBC-enabled databases, text files, and XML files. The authors start out with the basics on how to download and install the software (it's dead simple). Then using a few tutorial exercises and plenty of screen prints, they walk you through the basics of connecting to a data source and building a report. The features available in BIRT seem endless, and I was completely amazed at the quality and depth that the software offers for both simple and complex report generation. Throughout the entire read, I kept thinking about a number of applications I wanted to try this out on. Normally to get something of this magnitude, you have to buy reporting packages that cost thousands. Peh, Hannemann, and Hague have completely twisted my world view when it comes to reporting. Great job!
The only thing that wasn't covered too much was how to roll this out to an end-user base without having to make your audience experts in Eclipse. It seems as if there must be some way to package these reports up to shield the user from the internals. There's a follow-on book that covers integration and extension of BIRT, and I'm hoping that deployment is covered more there. But that in no way takes away from the value and quality of what the authors did here...
This is subject matter that has me excited for some potentially cool applications. If things work the way I hope they will, I'll owe a debt of gratitude to this book...