In early September I attended two webcasts introducing new client tools. I’ve been meaning to blog about them ever since but haven’t got round to it until now (so I have some apologising to do); as I’ve said before, I’ve given up writing reviews on this blog but both products have some interesting features and are therefore worth a closer look.
First of all, Varigence Vivid. It’s an Excel addin that does all the kind of complex query things that a proper SSAS client tool does but which Excel pivot tables don’t do; which is all very well, but there are plenty of Excel addins like this already. However its key selling point is this: unlike every other Excel addin client tool for SSAS, instead of trying to replace the native functionality completely it actually builds on and extends existing Excel pivot table functionality. This means that users who don’t have Vivid installed can still use worksheets and pivot tables created using it, which I think is pretty cool.
Second up, Bonavista Dimensions. It’s another Excel addin that can connect to SSAS but it can also create SSAS local cubes from a variety of data sources (I suspect if/when PowerPivot gets an API it will make sense to add support for creating PowerPivot models too). The main differentiating feature in this case is visualisation, and it supports a wide variety of Tableau-like charts which look very impressive; you can also export dashboards created in Excel up to a server to allow for web-based consumption, rather like Excel Services without the cost and hassle of Sharepoint.
Talking of Tableau, ever since it was launched I’ve thought Microsoft should buy the company – it would catapult MS into a genuine leadership position in BI, and almost incidentally solve the whole client tool problem for SSAS, PowerPivot and BISM (and incidentally, has anyone else noticed how much exposure Tableau is getting on Azure Datamarket?). The topic came up on Jen Stirrup’s blog recently in relation to Project Crescent and was dealt with very intelligently; unlike Jen, though, I don’t think Crescent is a reason for Microsoft not to buy Tableau. For a start Crescent comes from the SSRS team and if anyone in MS was going to buy Tableau it would be the Office group – and I don’t think they’d change their plans just because of what the SQL Server guys are doing. Can you imagine what a big deal it would be if Tableau appeared as a new tool in Office 2010? It would certainly be a major reason for many companies to upgrade, and therefore generate more cash for MS than Crescent will ever make – not that Crescent is bad, on the contrary it looks quite promising, but Office revenues are on a different scale to SQL BI. Hmm, however much sense it makes I’m not sure it will ever happen though…