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Don Burleson Blog 









Can Discoverer "Drake" Replace Discoverer Desktop?

Don Burleson


  I was working with one of our customers last week who was looking at implementing the new OracleBI Discoverer 10g, otherwise known as "Drake". The customer already used Oracle Discoverer Desktop 3i and had previously looked at upgrading to Oracle Application Server 9i Discoverer Plus, but had chosen not to upgrade to this version due to a number of usability issues with the new version. For anyone unfamiliar with the different versions of Discoverer, this is Discoverer Desktop, a Windows application:

whilst this is Application Server 9i Discoverer Plus (10g Release 1 is much the same) delivered as a java applet

and this is the new OracleBI Discoverer Plus 10.1.2, a.k.a. "Drake", also a java applet.

When Discoverer 9iAS first came out, the Discoverer Plus version was positioned by Oracle as being the natural replacement for Discoverer Desktop. However, many organisations (including our customer) had a number of issues with Discoverer Plus that meant it couldn't be a complete replacement for Discoverer Desktop. Whilst the functionality of Discoverer Plus was quite similar to Discoverer Desktop (you could author and view reports, swap around dimension and page items, format tables and crosstabs and produce graphs) there were a number of things you could do with Desktop that you couldn't with Plus:

  • As Discoverer 9iAS Plus used an HTML table to display cell-level data, there was no mechanism for individually selecting cells, or blocks of cells, except as rows in the table.

  • Because of this use of an HTML table and the lack of individually selectable cells, there was no facility for right-clicking on a cell, and then formatting it or drilling to a different worksheet.

  • All column rearrangement and formatting had to be carried out using the worksheet wizard

  • Printing was via the browser and was hard to format and fit to a page

  • The Analysis Bar had gone (again because of the lack of individually selectable cells and columns)

  • There was no facility to save workbooks to the file system

Discoverer Plus did have a number of improvements over Discoverer Desktop, principally the fact that it was web-based and therefore needed no client software install, and also the graphing was much better. However the usability issues and the poor quality printing usually meant that, even if Discoverer Plus was rolled out, a few copies of Desktop were still kept installed for the more "demanding" sets of users.

So, now that OracleBI Discoverer Plus 10.1.2 is available, is it a suitable replacement for Discoverer Desktop? The short answer is "on the whole, yes" but let's look in more detail at how it shapes up.

The big, big improvement with Discoverer Plus 10.1.2 is that the method of displaying cells has been overhauled. Instead of an HTML table, there's a java applet widget in it's place and it supports individual cell selection, selection of rows and columns, and right-clicking on cells and ranges of cells. This new ability to individually select cells addresses a major part of any issue with previous versions of Discoverer Plus.

Whereas in Discoverer Plus 9iAS you could just drill to detail using the column or row headers,

with Discoverer Plus 10.1.2 you can now additionally right-click on cell and drill to a related item, a facility that our client was used to using as a way of "mining" into the data.

The fact that you can select individual cells, or columns or rows, also means that you can format them individually (dispensing with the column-by-column formatting using 9iAS' worksheet wizard)

The Analysis Bar is available again, albeit in a slightly different format:

The other big improvement with Discoverer Plus 10.1.2 is the printing support. Printing is now much better and uses a different java printing mechanism (a PDF driver/filter?) under the covers. Worksheets can be fitted to a page and do not span across multiple print pages as they usually did with Discoverer 9iAS.

Cell-level selection and printing were the two big improvements that impressed our customer. Also, looking now at what's new with Discoverer Plus 10.1.2, there are a number of improvements on Discoverer Plus 9iAS and Discoverer Desktop, including:

  • Support for OLAP as well as relational data sources
  • Excellent graphing, improved even on Discoverer Plus 9iAS
  • Easy integration with Oracle Portal
  • Stoplighting
  • The new "Selector Bar", which makes it easy to both add new and amend the items in a worksheet, and immediately see what conditions you've put on a worksheet

There were however still a couple of outstanding issues with Discoverer 10.1.2 that, whilst not being show-stoppers, would be good if the Discoverer development team could address in a future release.

Firstly, there is still no ability to save workbooks to the filesystem. Whilst Oracle might, at a high level, argue that the filesystem is redundant now and the database is a more secure, scalable place to put workbooks, it is still easier to pass around workbooks as .DIS files via email and the customer has implemented a form of workbook sharing by putting the workbook files on a fileserver and then granting permissions to groups of users. They found this easier than individually granting access to users to workbooks that are stored in the database, and would miss this feature.

Secondly, although the quality of graphs in Discoverer Plus 10.1.2 are far better than in Desktop, you can't drill to related items using the 10.1.2 graph as you can with Desktop. Also, with Desktop you can drag slices of pie charts out to highlight a particular dimension value, which you can't with 10.1.2.

Lastly, and these are not things that are even present  in Discoverer Desktop, but are found in competing BI tools, it would be nice if you could select columns or rows and "freeze" these panes, like you can with Microsoft Excel, and it would be useful if the format of a particular cell could be based on the value of another cell (as you get with Express), so that for example the colour of a sales total cell could be red, green or amber depending on another cell that contained the performance to target.

So, to go back to our original question - "Can Discoverer Drake Replace Discoverer Desktop" - I think the answer now is "Yes", as long as saving workbooks to the database rather than filesystem is not a problem. More details on Discoverer Plus and Oracle Business Intelligence 10g can be found on the product homepage.



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