Business Intelligence Receives Microsoft Boost

Microsoft Corp. and Seagate Software Inc. announced on Monday that when Visual Studio.NET ships, Seagate's Crystal Reports will be more tightly integrated with the suite of development tools than it has in the past.

The new offering, Crystal Reports for Visual Studio.NET, promises to make data analysis easier for end-users as well as developers.

Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing strategies at analyst firm Current Analysis, in Sterling, Va., said that, excluding spreadsheets, Crystal Reports may be the most ubiquitous BI (business intelligence) product on the market today.

"Crystal Reports and .NET are very complimentary, in that .NET is about bringing data sources together and Crystal Reports can do that," Schiff said.

Microsoft and Seagate have tied Crystal Reports and Visual Basic together since 1993, and the reporting software shipped in the box with Visual Studio 6.

"Now we'll integrate right into the [Visual Studio.NET] shell," said Tim Lang, director of strategic alliances at Seagate in Vancouver, British Columbia.

As a result, developers can build reporting capabilities, such as report navigation and text search, directly into Windows applications, Web Forms, and Web Services.

Web Forms enables developers to build HTML-based forms that are rendered on the Web server, and Web Services enables developers to directly link applications, services, and devices with one another over the Internet.

A developer building a Windows application in C# (C sharp), for instance, could drag and drop reporting capabilities into the program to run as a piece of the application, credit the whole thing as a Web service, then publish it across the Internet via XML.

"Web Services uses SOAP [simple open access protocol], which enables users from any platform to call into that Web Service report," said Dave Mendlen, Microsoft's lead program manager for Visual Studio, in Redmond, Wash. "This enables a new type of data analysis."

Based on current technology, users can only look at reports, but they have to go back to developers to further analyze the data.

"One level of analysis almost always leads to another," Current Analysis' Schiff said. "That's something the typical application developer doesn't want to have to worry about because you can't anticipate every question that will come."

The integration of Crystal Reports and Visual Studio enables end-users to drill down into data that is displayed on a Web page, then pivot that data to get at exactly what they want, Microsoft's Mendlen said. Furthermore, a single report can contain information that comes from a variety of data sources, according to Seagate's Lang.

"Integrating multiple data sources makes data analysis more effective for users, who always want to see it all in one interface," Schiff said.

Microsoft issued a preview of Visual Studio.NET at its Professional Developer's Conference in July. The final version is slated to ship next year.

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