Here are the available reporting software packages by Windward, which are composed of four products that can work separately or together:
- The Windward Java Engine. The Windward engine is pure Java (there’s also a pure .Net version) and runs on one or multiple servers as part of an enterprise’s server-based application. The engine can be called from either Java code, integrated as a Java Servlet/JSP or called directly from the command line via a batch file or shell script. The engine is typically deployed as a set of JAR files and wrapped into a standalone application or deployed to a web application server such as Apache Tomcat, IBM Websphere, Oracle WAS, etc.
- AutoTag. AutoTag is a report design tool that allows the end user to create templates in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
- Javelin. A complete desktop reporting solution, AutoTag Max is an enhanced version of AutoTag and includes a server and report scheduler.
- Arrow for SharePoint. Windward Arrow 3.0 extends SharePoint to deliver an enterprise reporting, document management, dashboard and business intelligence system. Arrow 3.0 for SharePoint lets a community of users design, run and share reports. As of July, 2012, this is an open source “product” from Windward.
We installed and tested the Windward Java engine and the report design tool AutoTag.
Getting the Windward Java engine up and running was a simple, straightforward process. First we downloaded the correct installer. (There are different installers for Windows and other operating systems).
Then we easily and quickly installed the 35 MB package by following the free online documentation. We wouldn’t have thought free documentation was a big deal until we discovered some companies charge for their documentation.
The instructions guided us step-by-step through installing the engine, and the installation added both Windward .jar and the third-party libraries to the classpath. We found the test folder especially handy, because it allowed us to head off any potential problems early by running an installation verification test. After this we installed AutoTag, which automatically detected which components were already installed on our system and installed only what was necessary.
After the installation we were able to immediately start designing report templates. Windward’s design tool, AutoTag, is an add-in to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, so report creation was a much simpler process than with the other tools we evaluated. We simply opened Word and began adding the desired elements to our template (headers, footers, text blocks, charts, graphs, images, tables of contents, etc.) using Word’s built-in commands. Because we already were familiar with Word, this interface took us much less time to master than any of the other report design tools we found. Nearly all the features in Office were available to us, with the exception of some minor formatting tools.
We also appreciated the fact that AutoTag is a non-banded design tool. This not only allowed us greater freedom in report design – we could lay out elements as we wished on the page, rather than stacked across the page – but it also saved us significant time and was great for large-scale document generation.
Windward uses Word, Excel and PowerPoint as its design interface, so we were quickly able to create reports that looked exactly the way we wanted them to.
One of the features that stood out was charting. Reporting programs often stumble with charting, but this is another area where Windward stood strong. We didn’t have to go through a lot of additional or complicated steps such as dummy image insertion or learning obscure beans. The charts were fairly easy to create, had a wide range of layout and theme options, and were accompanied by solid examples in the sample templates and written documentation.
We also designed reports in Excel, which ran as smoothly as the process in Word. Of particular note was the ability to use Excel’s dynamic formulas, which expanded intuitively with our data. For example, in an invoice table we set one cell to sum the product subtotals (=SUM(E4)). When we generated the report, the cell summed all the data in the product subtotals column (cells E4 through E10) instead of a single cell.
Connecting to an SQL database was a simple, guided process. We launched the connection window and were able to easily choose the appropriate database from a list of databases Windward handles: SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, MySql, PostgreSQL, OleDB, ODBC, or any other ADO.NET provider installed. Windward also handles XML file and Excel spreadsheet data sources, and you can connect to them in any order. The system searches for matching databases and presents you with a list, and it saves the most recent connections in a drop-down menu. After testing our connection with a button click, we were able to begin tagging our template.
Windward touts itself as a reporting solution for the business user, and this claim is true for the large majority of the data insertion process. The business professional can use the Data Bin’s drag-and-drop functionality to place tags into templates. With Windward Pods, we created a template without creating a single tag by using an existing template’s tags and tables. Programming knowledge is necessary in some cases, but we found it wasn’t required to write complex scripts by hand because AutoTag’s wizards and intuitive windows walked us through creating a range of select statements. A validate tool checks tag syntax so we could find and fix errors before running the report.
AutoTag ships with a large variety of tags:
Out Tag: The most basic and most common tag takes seconds to insert a piece of data into our templates.
ForEach Tag: There was no complicated process for iteration over a set of records. Instead of having to manipulate the Group section and Details section of the development environment, we used a simple tag that allowed us to loop through our data.
If and Else Tags: To get the effect of conditional actions, we simply used tags that allowed us to create select statements without hassle. No complicated sections or tricky fields required.
Chart Tag: The chart tag let us create a series of selects to define data to be displayed in charts and graphs. The tag interface’s Select Data icon walked us through selects for the chart’s rows and columns, and formatting the chart (selecting color schemes, adding titles and other text, etc.) was easily done from within the tag.
Matrix, Column and Row Tags: We weren’t restricted to creating rectangular tables. The matrix tag let us create a table with as many cells as we needed, and the rows or columns expanded automatically depending upon the data.
Link Tag: Our database contained a number of stored URLs, and we were able to use the link tag to dynamically generate hyperlinks when we ran our reports.
Import Tag: Our database also contained a number of text and PDF files. Rather than manually inserting them, we used the import tag to insert the content on the fly. We also used the import tag to embed templates within templates (a really cool feature!).
Query and Set Tags: To save time, we used the query and set tags to create variables and use them elsewhere in the template. It saved time not only during report design but was especially noticeable when running the report, because the template didn’t need to repeatedly re-access an extremely large database.
Windward offered us nine different output formats: HTML, PDF, DOCX, XML (Word), RTF, XLSX, XLS, PPTX, and direct to a printer. For the most part the final report rendered as we expected it to, although there were some minor formatting issues for which we needed to return to the template and make tweaks. (Namely, tables in Excel needed cells expanded to fit our data and some line drawings in PDF reports were not completely true to the original image in the template). Two other products from Windward, AutoTag Max and Arrow for SharePoint, allowed us to schedule reports to be run as needed, and they also allowed reports to be emailed directly to third parties and unlimited iterations stored where we instructed. In addition, Arrow for SharePoint gave us the ability to set permissions so authorized colleagues and others could view, share and edit reports.
In our experience, support is where Windward really shines. The detailed documentation covers everything from installation to program use to sys admin maintenance, and there are also short “getting started” guides that helped us get up and running quickly. The website offers written tutorials, video demonstrations, and paid support.
Overall, Windward outperformed the other reporting programs we evaluated. We found only a couple of features that could have been improved (the XPath and SQL wizards don’t allow for comparison of fields, and there’s no IDE interface), and Windward’s robust feature set and ease of use make this a top-rated reporting solution.
Category: Reviews and Evaluations