Continuing my occasional series of SSAS client tool reviews, here’s another contender in the post-Proclarity power-user market: DataWarehouse Explorer, from Dutch company CNS International.
DWE is a standalone, ‘rich client’ application that gives you a lot more functionality than you get in Excel pivot tables and as such is competing in the same market that Proclarity Desktop Professional used to dominate and which is still pretty crowded. There’s also a web-based portal that you can publish reports to (see here for full details on the architecture) but if you want to build queries you need to do it on your desktop.
So what’s it like? I liked it: it’s not got any flashy features that mark it out particularly, but it does everything it needs to do and it does so well. Probably the best thing is the UI – a nice Office 2007 look-and-feel and most importantly very clear and easy to use. As someone who has spent plenty of time working with Analysis Services over the last ten years or so, when I start using a new client tool I expect to be able to do what I want to do very easily: I know all the basic concepts of cubes, I know the Adventure Works cube, and I know the queries I want to run, so if I can’t work out how to do something then I lay the blame on the UI design. And if I can’t do something there’s not point expecting an end user to do it. In the case of DWE I had no problems at all and in many respects it’s much easier to use than something like Proclarity or Excel. Here’s a screenshot:
The filter dialog provides a good example of how they’ve got the UI right. Filtering is something that every worthwhile client tool needs to do, but it’s easy to make it confusing for the user especially when you’re applying multiple conditions. The DWE filter dialog is uncluttered, shows all the filters you’ve already set up, makes it easy to add new ones or delete existing ones, and has a number of nice touches like the way it automatically formats any numeric conditions you enter to match the format string of the measure you’re filtering on.
Other features worth mentioning include:
- It mimics Excel 2007’s in-cell data bars and conditional formatting very closely. I like those features in Excel and things like this make DWE very easy to pick up for Excel users.
- There’s a ‘Notes’ pane where you can add text commenting on the query you’ve built.
- In the slicer pane, you can search for hierarchies by name – useful when you’ve got a lot of hierarchies and dimensions:
- Similarly, the slicer pane can organise the hierarchies on slice according to which ones you’ve explicitly selected something on, ones where there is an implicit selection (for example because there’s no All Member or a specific Default Member has been set), and ones where there is no selection:
- There’s a ‘Cube Dictionary’ feature that allows you to look at the metadata of objects on the server, for example to check the aggregation method that a measure uses:
- The UI can be switched between English, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish.
- You can hide more difficult functionality by setting the ‘User Level’ option to ‘Basic’ or ‘Intermediate’ rather than the default of ‘Advanced’. Fewer buttons and options improves ease-of-use for new or less competent users.
Overall, then, a good product and one worth evaluating if you’re looking for a desktop-based SSAS client tool.