Client Tools

Softpro Cubeplayer

While I was at SQLBits I had the pleasure of meeting Tomislav Piasevoli (who has come all the way from Croatia especially), someone who has been very active on the Analysis Services MSDN Forum recently and who knows a lot about MDX. His company, Softpro, sells an Analysis Services client tool called Cubeplayer and he very kindly gave up his lunchtime to gave me a detailed demo. As I said recently the general feeling of frustration surrounding Microsoft’s client tool strategy has made me look again at the third-party client tool market and decide to review some of these tools here, and this look at Cubeplayer is the first in the series. Remember, if you’ve got a client tool you’d like me to look at, please drop me a line…

The first thing to say about Cubeplayer is that it’s a tool for power users and consultants, not the average user who might want to browse a cube. As such it’s going to appeal to the fans of the old Proclarity desktop client, which it vaguely resembles in that it’s a fat client with a lot of very advanced query and analysis functionality. It’s not part of a suite – there’s no web client etc – but it includes dashboarding functionality that’s only available through the tool itself, and also has the ability to publish queries up to Reporting Services.

What can it do? Well, the web site has a good section showing video demos of the main functionality, but here are some main points:

  • It can certainly do all the obvious stuff like drag/drop hierarchies to build your query, as well as more advanced selection operations such as the ability to isolate individual members in a query, drill up and down on individual members or all members displayed. It also has a number of innovative features like the ability to click on a cell and drill down on it, which means that you drill down on every member on every axis associated with this cell.
  • It also supports all the more advanced types of filtering and topcounts that you’d expect from a tool like this; in fact, it seems to do pretty much anything you can do in MDX. This does give you an immense amount of power and flexibility, but sometimes at the expense of ease-of-use. Take the old nested topcount problem, solved in MDX using the Generate function: any advanced client tool will have to handle this scenario and Cubeplayer certainly does in its Generate functionality, but would you even expect a power user to be able to understand what’s going on here and remember they have to click some extra buttons to get this to happen?
  • There’s a nice feature where you can choose to display the data in your grid either as actual values, ranks, percentages or other types of calculation. This makes it really easy to make sense of large tables of data.
  • It has a whole load of built-in guided analyses such as ‘How Many?’, ‘Show Me’, ABC analysis (for segmentation) and Range analysis. This for me is a real selling point – I’ve been asked several times, for example, about doing ABC analysis with Analysis Services and I’m not sure I’ve seen another tool that does it.
  • Another cool thing I’ve not seen before is the ability to put two queries side-by-side and, if they have selections on the same hierarchy, do operations like unions, intersects and differences on the selections.
  • There’s an MDX editor (with intellisense and other useful stuff) where you can write your own queries. Again, not something that even a power-user might want to do, but if you’re a consultant who knows MDX it’s a useful feature for those times when you know you can write the query but you can’t get the query builder to do exactly what you want.
  • You can generate Reporting Services reports from a query view. You probably already know my opinions on the native support for Analysis Services within Reporting Services, and this certainly does make it much easier to create cube-based reports.

Overall, definitely worth checking out if you’re in the market for this type of tool. There are a few criticisms to be made: as I said, I’m not sure it’s as easy to use as it could be although this is partly the price you pay for the richness of the functionality; there are some strange lapses in UI design such as the way all dialogs have ‘Accept’ and ‘Cancel’ buttons with icons on, instead of the usual plain ‘OK’ and ‘Cancel’; and charting is competent but not up to the standards of the best visualisation tools (I think many vendors would do well to look at their tools and ask themselves "What would Stephen Few think?" – it might not be very complimentary).  In my opinion, though, it’s a very strong and mature tool and the positives far outweigh the negatives.

One final point: Tomislav mentioned he was looking for reseller partners outside Croatia. If you’re interested in this I can put you in touch with him.

6 thoughts on “Softpro Cubeplayer

  1. Interesting ABC view there…looks EXACTLY like ProClarity\’s Decomposition View. http:// what I remember, that view was patented, so they might be in violation there. But then again, Microsoft owns ProClarity now, so that changes everything. (I say some of this as a guy that helped to create ProClarity — back in the day)But this does seem like the type of tool that I would love (as someone who already knows MDX), and the average business user would not. That is fine by me, business users already have excel.One area where they are better than ProClarity…they are much prettier.

  2. First of all I would like to apologize that I will use this page to demystify some questions about CubePlayer.
    – Knosys/Proclarity and Decomposition Tree.
    This is not our first product with ABC analysis. ABC analysis with user interface that looks like DT we have
    since 2001 in SoftPro Manager
    twice Fusion finalist
    Microsoft Data Warehouse Alliance Platinum member
    Even looks like DT, it works in a different way, with different algorithms, following ABC rules. ABC and DT are not the same thing and do not have same results, and what it looks like DT it is only entry point for ABC+ (and Segmentation) analysis. Especially they are not the same since ABC will return results back to the grid (dashboard) if required.
    We know for patent and we differ in sufficient number of steps.
    The same conclusion someone “might have” for OLAP parameters that are integrated inside CubePlayer. We have them since year 2000 and SoftPro Manager.
    At that time there was no application capable of defining and using OLAP parameters.
    Office 2007 look (Ribbon)
    Together with multi threading exist since Jun, 2007.
    I would like to express my gratitude to Chris Webb finding a time to test product and write review, as well as for this opportunity to place this comment.
    In addition I am inviting all of those who tried/tested/using CubePlayer to send us comments or their wishes. All comments regardless good or bad will help us to make better product, just like this review.
    (this is the way how we improve product “from users – for users”)
    Kindest Regards
    Miljenko Akik, B.Sc. EE
    CEO, SoftPro Tetral

  3. Since we listen voice of users, we corrected two things in our UI:
        Button text „Accept“ is replaced with „OK“
        “Invasive” icons on buttons OK and Cancel are replaced with small icon markers
         (we could not remove them entirely since most of our users are already used to them)
    Update is available on th eweb.
    Thx for advice. 
    Sorry for the mess in a previous post.

    I would like to say some points about CubePlayer UI .
    First we introduced Ribbon Menus and Docking windows in CubePlayer before Datawarehouse Explorer introduced it. We felt Ribbon menus has good look and feel effect and is not crowded like the old menus. We introduced Ribbon menus after seeing Microsoft Office 2007 excel application. Since Cubeplayer is developed using Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 (.net framework 2.0 precisely) so we used the docking window capabilities like the Visual studio so as to display more query windows inside the Main application.
    Thank you
    Prakash Chatla

Leave a ReplyCancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.