Monday, December 7, 2009

The Wailing Wall of Open Source BI

Henry David Thoreau once wrote: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation". Much the same can be said of the multitude of users struggling with open source reporting and analysis tools like Mondrian or Jaspersoft. The difference, of course, if that those folks happen to be pretty vocal. And nowhere more so than on those vendors' own "support" forums.

I double-quote the term purposely. Because what you witness on these forums falls far (very far) short of what I consider to be minimally acceptable customer support levels. Now, it's a fact that many people find solace in these communities - after all, given the massive amounts of questions posed there, some are bound to get answered quickly and (hopefully) correctly. And it's a fact that many people achieve success (or some level of it) with open source BI solutions. At what cost, we can only surmise, but clearly, resilient, persistent and courageous people are getting some work done on these platforms.

But more often than not, the levels of post abandonment (ignored questions) and the arrogant responses are high enough to be shocking. I am stunned at the number of times where posting users are treated like it's their fault. The implication is that they are stupid or negligent. As a matter of fact, if you spend the time analyzing the language semantics, what you see are fearful, timid, often desperate users mustering the courage to post questions in the hope that somehow, someday, they will be answered by the Grand Wizards of [fill in the OSS BI vendor name]. This is not unlike the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, where masses of people stick written prayers between the stones.

I find that these forum "masters" are too often condescending and consequently, they generate a "master-pupil" environment I find somewhat repulsive. It reminds me a lot of the old school systems in Europe, where Professors would stand on an elevated stage above the class to seal their social superiority. There's nothing wrong with respect but in my opinion, it has to be earned. When you berate, ignore or insult those who seek to learn from you, you are far from deserving respect, Grasshopper.

I do realize that these vendors provide some level of "enterprise" support for those wishing to license the software but given what you see in the public forums, it's hard to imagine it can be any better on the paid side because, quite honestly, Open Source companies simply don't "get" service. They are too often blinded by the magnificence of their code or product and forget that without users and healthy bi-directional communities, there wouln't be a company, Open Source or not.

My experience navigating through several Open Source forums was similar. At the time I figured, it's just me. I'm an impatient SOB and it's my problem. But when you start analyzing these forums (and I spent hours doing so), you quickly realize the disease is wide-spread.  All of a sudden, it's not just you anymore - almost everyone has the darn infection! I often wonder why people put up with this nonsense. Deep inside, I know the answer of course: because they don't have a choice. Either they can't find an easier product to use, or they are compelled to use it for organizational reasons (as in, my boss told me to check this out <sigh>). I do believe the advent of SaaS BI analytical tools spell the end of an era for the multitudes who must suffer through Open Source to get even the simplest of reports and dashboard out in less than three months!

But don't take my word for it. After all, I work on the SaaS side of BI and am likely biased. Even worse, I actually blogged a while ago about the merits of using Mondrian for OLAP. Indeed, after many months of putzing with it, I was able to accomplish something useful but I have twenty years of experience in IT. Read that again: two decades of messing around with difficult stuff and figuring out how to make it work. So sure, for someone like me (and if forced into it) you bet open source can work. But what about the poor guys who don't have that kind of experience? What about the people tasked with just getting reports or analytics done? I feel bad for those folks who invest time and considerable effort in open source solutions only to be left at the altar of success. And if you don't believe me when I say they're out there en masse, then feast your eyes on the following selected quotes and links from Pentaho and Jaspersoft OSS BI forums (they are reproduced verbatim, grammar, spelling and emotional content intact).

"It seems I first have to dive in pentaho source code to figure how the printing function in pentaho is working"

"I am new user to Pentaho. I downloaded mondrian- Now please advise me the steps I need to follow to configure modrian in my system."

"Although I'm no expert, I think Spreadsheet services has been discontinued, well I've never seen a Pentaho Employee mention otherwise"

"I've been trying to use IIF all morning but I'm getting nowhere."

"I have two questions, which I barely dare to ask, but I am sitting here and can't get over my problem:"

"I tryed all combinations. The only combination that works is fact table,dimension tables and aggregates tables in the same Mysql schema, and a datasource that point to that schema."

"Hi everybody. Though I've run the demo applications and read almost every thread about this, still I can't get an exact understanding of the relation existing between Pentaho Server and Mondrian."

"I think that the preconfigured examples of JSPs, catalogs etc. are confusing at best - bad practice at worst."

"I am fairly new to Mondrian, and I am stuck at ths point"

"This might be very trivial for some of you but I'm really having a hard time figuring this out. So any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks so much."

"I've goggle this one down to my knuckles. I suspect my chopsticks are tangled on the Mondrian/Pentaho side? I would appreciate any thoughts the community might have."

"Nobody can help? If so, does anyone know where else I can go to find the answer ... I've pretty much exhausted Google's list of MDX links, and am getting a little desperate now. Don't want to tell my client "it can't be done" without good cause..."

"Desperate for assistance. Last big issue to overcome and deliver my pentaho bi solution."

"Need some Help again.. I told my Boss that I will get the prototype ready by tommorow. Any help would be appreciated"

"I'm quite desperate.... ... please... help...."

"Helloo...???? Anyone there?? My question may be silly, still any of your ideas would be much helpfull..Am really desperate to find the logic.. Am not good in java and am in verge of my project and solving this issue resolves half of my task...Please respond..!!!"

"We are pretty desperate by now. We tried to manually re-insert the UNC server part into the file name, but this is getting dirtier and dirtier as we build new jobs."

"Sorry bothering you again, but I'm in a desperate situationn. We are trying to run the new Pentaho GA, but we have a lot of problems when we try to run this with Oracle."

"I'm really fed up now trying to make charts working over couple of days. I have created a database connection and given the field names correctly. Can someone please help me? I'm really desperate to get this working.."

"I know this has been logged by both myself and others before, however I am desperate for an answer here."

"I  checkd out all the sample dashboards of cdf.. but am clueless to create a dashboard of my own.. is there a dashboard builder for cdf??"

"I dont consider myself a fool when it comes to working with technology, and I have found myself frustrated and confused beyond belief at what should be a seemingly simple task..."

"And...regarding the in the heck to I tell that to not show up if I have no idea where it's coming from? Sorry if I seem frustrated, but I am."

"I've just recently begun working with Pentaho, so forgive me if this is a known issue or feature...I did a search on these forums and couldn't find an answer...a frustrated contractor in DC."

"I got frustrated that i cannot get a decent quality, well formatted pdf output."

"However, I do have to say I really had to grind through the first 10 days or so in order to get this thing down to a point of not hitting hurdles every step of the way. In fact, I've got a colleague who is really pretty frustrated and trying to jump ship"

"A few weeks ago I was very frustrated that I was completely lost withing thePentaho suite. I cannot afford training (I'm broke, plus I live too far away from the traing venues) so my only means at this stage is all of the above"

"I’m not trying to start a ruckus or anything I just wanted to state when I am coming from and what I would like to see from Pentaho. Judging from the many unanswered post on this subject I think there are many more like me out there."

"Sorry about the begginer question. But i'm getting frustrated"

"I am getting increasingly more frustrated it is quite hard to get started. The documentation seems only to touch the very basics. "

"I am a bit frustrated right now as I haven't been able to solve any of my problems."

"...first, *I* don't think i'm an idiot. what frustrated me was the lack of TASK-ORIENTED information i found. i had a fairly simple, fairly small TASK i needed to GET DONE... i dont care about kettle or apis or what great problems Kettle could solve... I had a TASK and an IRATE BOSS."

"I'm pretty frustrated at this point: I mean seriously how much more simple could a transformation be!?!?!?!?!?!"

"If I am posting about that, it is because I ve been frustrated much!"

"I was very excited to find Pentaho and eagerly wanted to create my first Dashboard. Now I’m just completely frustrated. And as I search these posts, I see thousands of people are looking for the same basic answer with little to no response from Pentaho: How do you create/deploy a non-sample dashboard; i.e. how do you actually use this thing?"

"Maybe a non-IT guy doesn't want to deal with SQL queries at all...

Now let's look at a couple of "answers" to many of these posts (unfortunately, questions outnumber answers significantly):

"You use the search button. Version 2/3/3.5 brings in lots of changes to the way Pentaho does things, please mention which version of the BI server you are running.
Join the Unofficial Pentaho IRC channel on freenode. Server: Channel: ##pentaho - Please try and make an effort and search the wiki and forums before posting!"

"If all that is true then it is clearly a bug in mondrian and you should report it in jira."
Here, the moderator seems to question whatever the premise of the question was (as if people bothered posting lies...)

"The procedure is exactly as I have told you. You must have done something wrong somewhere. Just check through carefully;"
Typical "you must have screwed up something" response. How encouraging and a little condescending if you ask me.

"If not, please post the error. We're not clairvoyant."

"There might be a simpler way... search the doc."

In this post, a user actually bothers pasting a novel sized exception asking for help. Specifically, he asks: "Any help or even pointers to documentation more than Spring/Acegi provides would be greatly appreciated".

What does the Jasper guy reply with?

"JAAS authentication can certainly be done. Have a look at the Acegi documentation...The forum is also a great resource. - Is he kidding? Did he even read the post?

Here's another classic: a user is complaining about the advanced search in the Jasper forums. The moderator's suggestion is terse: "it is what it is". Then he suggests using Google! Are these people serious?

How about this comment: "I am desperate to use JasperReports , however I am having hard time understainding it".  Or this one: "Still can't compile - getting desparate...I am getting nowhere trying to get my reports to compile."

What can we conclude from this mass of desperation, frustration and confusion? Why would these vendor create and maintain such an environment to begin with? Because quite honestly, if I were looking for a BI platform for a critical project or client, and came upon these forums in the process, I'd run so fast the other way it's not even funny.

As I mentioned above, if you have some serious software development and IT background, the luxury of time, (the right hardware and software) and a propensity for hacking complex nebulous systems, or the courage to read a 600 page book on working with Pentaho, for example, these open source solutions might just do the trick. If your organization or client is insisting on going the Open Source route, and you have no say in the tooling selection, then clearly you have to deal with the pain, hope for the best, and pray for a check (or a job) at the end of the ordeal.

But if you're just a normal analyst or consultant tasked with a BI implementation on a tight deadline with an impatient boss breathing down your neck, there is an alternative. And if you're just a guy (or gal) who needs to get the job done now (as in, this week) without the drama and headaches of open source theatrics, you'll likely be looking at a SaaS BI solution.  Now, SaaS BI may not turn out to be your bag, but you owe it to yourself to at least give it a whirl and here's why (putting my pitching hat on):

It takes very little time, effort and money to try it out. In many cases, it's free. There's nothing to install or configure. It takes hours or days, not weeks or months, to build and showcase prototypes. Most of the time (as in 80%) the functionality is sufficient to do the job. And features/functionality increases dramatically with each release. Oh, and there's updated documentation. But here's the kicker: you'll actually get just-in-time support from people who actually care about your success.  As a matter of fact, they're invested in it. They will welcome your questions and use them to improve the offering. They won't ignore you and they won't treat you like an inferior species.

I know this is sounding a lot like "Miracle on 34th Street". Must be the season. Truth be told, SaaS BI is not for everyone, and your mileage may vary. But it's worth an honest shot. Because the alternative is an endless Wailing Wall of pain, misery and isolation that no one in BI should have to put up with anymore.


  1. @Jerome: OK, we get it, you are concerned about the threat that OSS BI supposedly poses to GoodData.
    I am sorry to tell you that you are wrong. Your target should be SAP/BO, Oracle/Hyperion, IBM/Cognos. Jaspersoft and Pentaho are your allies in the fight to change BI and make it more pervasive - not your ennemies.
    You're right, neither SaaS BI nor OSS BI are for everyone. But skimming the bad stuff on the forums is not really meaningful.
    After all, Gartner (who can hardly be characterized of being partial to OSS) said in last year's BI MQ that Jaspersoft and Pentaho scored better than the megavendors on customer support...

    Yves de Montcheuil

  2. No @Yves I'm afraid you missed the point. What I'm concerned about is the blatant disregard and disrespect for users and customers that certain OSS vendors are displaying. I find it shocking. Additionally, it's more than a skim - it's a genuine deluge.

    Whether or not SaaS players like GoodData can compete or not with OSS is besides the point. You'll notice I did not even mention GoodData at all in the post - but thanks for doing it :) -

    The fact is it's hard to find any SaaS player with such a blatant lack of customer support understanding. I find it shameful and it compels me to point it out because honestly, I don't know how they get away with it.

    If this is the way OSS is looking to "change BI" then I'm worried about it survivability. It seems to be a "gene" problem. Of course the excuse is usually "well it's free so you get what you pay for" - which is the point isn't it. But in fact it's far from free as we all know. And free or not, this is no way to treat peers and human beings.

    I'd love to see a Garner analyst try and use this stuff to accomplish anything by the way. I bet you after they get the treatment, they might change their tune :)

    Yours in BI.

  3. You discuss Jaspersoft and Pentaho...Would be interested to hear your thoughts on BIRT and BIRT-Exchange...

  4. The public nature of forums and responses does give
    you more to work with. I can say with certainty that similar attitudes related to customers prevail in traditional vendors - it's just that internal forums aren't visible to the customers. I've received plenty of incredulous responses, prematurely closed bug reports, HRTFM and bad soca from them.

    I think you're really decrying the sad state of most service today. Forum responses you showed seem consistent with end user forums for closed-source. Check out some INFA, IBM or MSFT forums and you'll see the
    same behaviors. It's not the vendors
    but the user community being incivil, and they are driven to these forums because of slow, inaccurate, unresponsive vendor service.

  5. If I get a chance to examine other offerings, you bet I'll post those thoughts as well. I have not, however, looked at BIRT's forums in a long time and certainly not for the purpose of gauging their level of support and customer philosophies. Thanks for reading the blog and the suggestion.

    Yours in BI.

  6. @Mark, thank you for the comment. You're probably right a lot of the incivility may be coming from customer peers however the vendor should not let this happen - when someone is in trouble, you don't let a peer abuse him/her and not take corrective action.
    I can't speak for the closed-source vendor forums you mention besides MSFT, having 20+ years of experience dealing with Microsoft and I can assure you I have never witnessed anything remotely close to what I see on OSS forums in terms of blatant disrespect and careless attitude toward the customer. Matter of fact, I'd venture to say MSFT has some of the best response/support people I've seen - additionally, there's so much information out there for MSFT, you're not really "stuck" to their forums - whereas OSS isn't there yet clearly.
    I am just flabbergasted to see how OSS vendors treat (or allow to be treated) their customers and have not seen such levels of arrogance in closed-source vendors (actually, I have, but they didn't stay in business very long).

    Thanks for participating - I think it's an interesting debate.

    Yours in BI.

  7. Hi Jerome,

    your post raises interesting points, but it is hard to fully appreciate them due to a certain FUD-factor :p. Let's take a look at a few of your points:

    "....those vendors' own "support" forums [...] these forums [fall] [...] short of [...] minimally acceptable customer support levels."

    There seems to be an expectation that these forums are meant to deliver customer support. They are not, and they don't claim to be. There may be a few developers from these companies answering questions, but most answers are submitted voluntarily by users, and most questions are asked by people which are usually not customers. This is by no means unique to OSS BI or other OSS forums.

    Then, you write:

    "I do realize that these vendors provide some level of "enterprise" support for those wishing to license the software but given what you see in the public forums, it's hard to imagine it can be any better on the paid side because, quite honestly, Open Source companies simply don't "get" service."

    In the light of what just mentioned about developers, volunteers and customers on forums, I am confused how you can jump to this conclusion. I fail to see how forum support can reflect on the regular paid-for customer support offered by the respective professional services branches of these companies. It also puzzles me how you generalize and downplay all services from all OSS companies. Its hard to understand what and who you mean exactly as you offer no example.

    Another point you raise is forum quality. You claim that " abandonment (ignored questions) and the arrogant responses are high enough to be shocking.." on these forums. I am wondering: is this based on your general impression or did you actually research post abandonment? Did you do that across the forums of multiple vendors?

    Your post then continues with a long list of quotes from the Jaspersoft and Pentaho forum posts. I occassionally ask and answer on the Pentaho forums so I have an idea of what is happening there. I have no doubt you harvested the quotes from that forum and perhaps the jasper forum too, but I do get the impression you are painting a negatively biased picture here. On many occasions I received excellent help at the Pentaho forum (as well as other OSS forums). I also witnessed numerous occasions where others got very good help for their problems, and through this I was able to learn a lot about these products.

    Finally, you write: "...if you have [...] software development and IT background, the luxury of time, (the right hardware and software) and a propensity for hacking complex nebulous systems, or the courage to read a 600 page book on working with Pentaho, for example, these open source solutions might just do the trick."

    Thank you for linking to a review of the "Pentaho Solutions" book! I appreciate the attention. I am puzzled though what you mean about needing "courage" to read this, or for that matter, any 600 page book. A well-structured text book allows the reader to skip through and pick out according to their requirements. I hope Jos an I succeeded in achieving that. So far, the amazon reviews seems to confirm that we did at least to some extent. Also, when I look at your profile picture I see your face next to a stack of books of which at least two well exceed 600 pages. Did you have that taken when you still had the courage to read such voluminous books :p

    I should also point out that there are in fact more books on OSS BI products - just search amazon for "BIRT", "JasperSoft" and "Pentaho". People can actually find less voluminous books there that may be better compatible with their level of courage :p

    Kind regards,

    Roland Bouman
    Author of "Pentaho Solutions", Wiley, ISBN: 978-0-470-48432-6

  8. Wow @Roland, thanks so much for taking the time to respond so extensively! I think this is a first on this blog!

    Lots of points to address. I will try to remain terse. FUD is exactly the atmosphere I was trying to describe in the forums actually. I find it prevalent there and that's one reason I decided to do this post.

    If these forums are not there to provide support, I think Pentaho should let people know. Because it's clear from the questions that support is indeed users' expectation from the nature of the posts on there. I don't see too many people "hanging out" in the community chit-chatting. What I see are people desperate for answers.

    When you write "most questions are asked by people which are usually not customers", I'm a little confused. All the posts I quoted sure seemed to be from people attempting to use the platform - perhaps not paying customers is what you meant but, as this is OSS, what's the difference? Is there a special, different treatment for people who pay to use Pentaho? In that case Pentaho should close these forums and be straight with people - tell them look, we can't or won't support you. You want support? Pony up some cash". And then if paid support is so much better, then it's a win-win for both sides.

    You state: "It also puzzles me how you generalize and downplay all services from all OSS companies" - Sure didn't mean to. Matter of fact I focused exclusively on Pentaho and Jasper (because I have experience there) and I also focused on support and service issues - not "all services".

    On post abandonment I did no scientific research besides just spending a day reading through them. It's easy to eyeball numerous unanswered posts. Additionally, numerous people also complain about their posts/questions not being answered so...Again, I didn't do this for any more than the 2 vendors mentioned. I am currently looking at BIRT (as a previous comment suggested) and am happy to do the same evaluation for any other OSS BI outfit. I just have so many hours in the weekend to do this :)

    You write: "On many occasions I received excellent help at the Pentaho forum (as well as other OSS forums)." - And as I point out, this does obviously happen. My point is not that _no one_ gets help, it's that a significant proportion of folks are treated in unacceptable ways. Doesn't mean some "customers" won't get satisfaction of course.

    As for the book, I have no doubt it is an invaluable resource for people struggling with Pentaho - clearly you saw a need for such a resource out there or you wouldn't have spent time and effort publishing it. And I have no problem blowing through such volumes myself, having done so consistently for the past 20 years as an engineer/developer - it's the nature of our job isn't it. (Not unlike attorneys). The developer who cannot read massive amounts and digest it quickly is doomed. But that's my point - it's ok if you're a developer, but if you're just looking to do some BI quickly, you have a problem. Because not only might you not have the resilience to dig through a book of biblical proportions, but you might not even know where to begin or what's being talked about inside!

    But, if I were to follow your argument (and in light of your last paragraph) then I would suggest folks like Pentaho and Jasper simply stop bothering with support/commmunity websites and simply fess up to the truth. Tell people they're on their own and if they need help, point them to the books (perhaps some blogs)! At least it's more honest that way. But to put people through this kind of treatment is, in my opinion, simply suicidal and arrogant at best.

    Great discussion. Thanks for chiming in; it's an honor.

    Yours in BI,

  9. I think some of the points you raise are valid. My expectations on a forum where I am asking is that there is a good chance I am not the first person to experience the problem and the 'community' shold be able to help me out. The Linux (particularly Fedora) forums really helped me out a lot when starting my journey into the Open Source world.

    Equally, I have had my share of rude, "How dumb is this question" type responses on other forums such as Development forums. This just leads to a tailspin of frustration and generally leads nowhere.

    I think most if not all OS BI Vendors could help themselves by offering better documentation. I currently use Palo ( and their forum is, well I guess it is what I expect from a forum. A mixed bag of good and bad responses.

    Palo's step by step doco is good, but its not free (nor expensive I might add). I'm am not familiar with the standard Pentaho or Jaspersoft doco but I would hope there is a step by step guide there somewhere. If not, then it is easy for people to hit the forums hard with their frustrations. If there is, forum users should ensure they have read it from start to end before posting.

    Just my 2 cents worth!

  10. @Graham, thanks for the input and for taking the time to read the blog. Clearly not all OSS forums (even in BI) are created equal :)

    Yours in BI,

  11. Jerome, thanks for your reply.

    I would be glad to discuss this at length some other time, preferably live over some beers or a glass of wine, but otherwise in some virtual capacity.

    For now I'll leave a condensed reply to address what is IMO the key point:

    OSS projects (not just OSSBI) have a long and lively history and culture revolving around IRC, mailing lists, and forums. Successful OSS projects cannot not have these: community members go out and create their own if there isn't one - this is for example how the ##pentaho irc channel came to life.

    Companies like Pentaho and Jasper also offer paid-for services like support, consultancy, training and certification. Argueably this is the real product, because although they maybe offering a closed source "enterprise" version of their software to the paying customers of these services, usually the majority of that software is identical to the OSS offering.

    To some extent, enterprise editions of OSS are created as a psychological lever for those people that actually want to pay for support, but are still used to buying software licenses. When I was still with MySQL, there were sales people that said: the customers want to pay, but somehow they don't feel right they can get the product (MySQL server) already without paying. Basically the customers say, I want to pay for support, but you have to give me a cookie. And thus, enterprise editions were born, with "add-ons".

    The mantra here is "either you spend time on DIY, or you spend money on getting it done"

    So in short: yes, there is a big difference between just users and customers. The fact that it is OSS does not render the distinction invalid: although both have access to largely the same software the paying customers get value from the benefit of support and training and perhaps consultancy to actually get things done fast.

    kind regards,

    Roland Bouman

  12. Jerome,

    Thankyou for raising this topic. You provide us with the opportunity to point out that several analyst firms have recently surveyed customers of BI vendors and found that Pentaho's enterprise support is superior to that of most other BI vendors. Google for:
    'gartner recognizes pentaho support'
    'nigel pendse in praise'

    James Dixon, CTO, Pentaho.

  13. @James - Thanks for chiming in. I didn't speak about Pentaho enterprise support because I have no facts on or experience with it.

    What I _did_ express was an opinion that, given the way Pentaho supports the folks who use it for free (which would probably be the majority?) I doubt enterprise support might be significantly better in spirit. Why? Because this is not an issue of money or resources but rather an overall attitude about the customer that says "we and our product are the center of the world and the customer is an annoyance". This is the message/impression being put out IMHO and I find it disturbing.

    So I'm very happy that learn that Gartner gives Pentaho enterprise support 2 thumbs up, and I'm certain people can form their own opinion based on all the facts -- But at least now they DO have all the facts.

    Yours in BI,

  14. Jerome,
    As have been identified, but not clarified - the forums are based on community support. It is not a vendor-customer relationship, as you are suggesting it is.

    Any person posing a question, or posting a response, is an individual who chooses to do so. It is in no form or fashion representative of commercial customer support from the vendor, who is governed by commercial SLA's.

    Anybody who is choosing to use the free software, by definition, is not a customer, as they have paid for nothing. A Customer is an entity that has made purchase of some sort, as this typically how a 'customer' is defined. Other than that, they are merely users of open source software.

    While I do believe that respect is due to all, it would seem to me to paint an incorrect picture that the vendors are providing support and being disrespectful to those seeking it. In fact, it could be anybody who is responding, and most likely, is not the vendor because the vendors are too busy living up to the Service Level Agreements they are commited to by paying customers.

    While many of the posts you shared are posted by desperate 'users', it is not up to OSBI companies to support them just because they are desperate. After all, OSBI companies are not non-profit charities. They are VC-backed, for-profit, private entities that have commercial offerings for sale.

    The mere fact that these companies have an opportunity to implement powerful BI solutions without having to pay for a software license is a major change in the software industry, and is something to celebrate, rather than denigrate. After all, without OSBI, they would have no opportunity whatsoever to: use powerful BI software and communicate with a worldwide community of experts, at no charge whatsoever. Before OSBI, what opportunity was there?

    I will not judge you, but I think you could have done a better job describing these environments, and setting more appropriate expectations, rather than painting this negative picture without truly communicating the dynamics of what is going on. It does create a question in my mind as to either a hidden agenda, or incomplete homework.

    Dave Mohr

  15. Hi @David and thanks for posting. I do have some issues with your comment, namely:

    "It is not a vendor-customer relationship" - Are you suggesting there are never any Pentaho employees present on the forums interacting with users and answering questions? Because it seemed to me there are a few Pentaho folks on there including some of the founders unless I am mistaken?

    "A Customer is an entity" - Sorry, but this is exactly what I meant when talking about not having the service or customer gene. No sir, a customer is not an "entity" in your CRM, it's a human being, a person. And should be the center of the world. I doubt you would like to be considered an "entity" at your favorite vendor. And I doubt they refer to you in public as such.

    "Other than that, they are merely users of open source software." - These "merely users" could become paying customer right? It sounds like you only consider the customer from the time he hands you a check. Sorry I think that's old school.

    "After all, without OSBI, they would have no opportunity whatsoever to: use powerful BI software and communicate with a worldwide community of experts, at no charge whatsoever." - Again, to me, this reeks of "we're doing them a favor, they're lucky we're even there, so if they don't like it screw them" - IMO you have a Pentaho-centric view of the world. I don't agree with this view - Neither do most of the SaaS BI players I am familiar with. SaaS BI has a customer-centric view of the world - that's the "S" in Service. To me this is a huge differentiator.

    Thank you for not judging me. I did spent a lot of time in a previous blog describing how I learned to love Mondrian (not sure you had a chance to read that). As I point out here, OSS is probably OK for paying customers (who knows), but not for the others (as seems clear to me from your comments here) so in that case, I don't see the difference between OSS and closed-source, quite honestly.

    I don't have a hidden agenda except to point out to folks that indeed, nowadays, there are alternatives to dealing with this kind of treatment (as you point out, there were none before) and in the BI realm, the OSBI "no pain no gain" mantra no longer stands due to more seamless (and cost-equivalent) SaaS offerings.

    Yours in BI.

  16. I should correct, what you pointed out was that there were no alternatives BEFORE OSBI - and that OSBI therefore provided one. This I can agree with. And I think SaaS BI is in the same position vis a vis OSBI at this point.

  17. I'm more surprised that someone (else) with purportedly 20+ years experience in IT would be surprised by the tone of public discourse amongst developers. I clearly remember the flame wars on BITNET and Usenet in ye olden days before Google offered to search all of humanity's collected knowledge for you. The moral of the story was to have your ducks in a row and actually try to solve your problem before randomly posting on the group. This is not new, novel, unique to BI, unique to open source, or unique to SaaS.

    The payoff comes when you actually do find a real problem, or are trying to solve tough problems in innovative ways, or are actively trying to contribute to the community -- you'll not find a more accepting and helpful group of folks collectively than developers, and particularly open source developers.

    Seriously, this tl;dr wall of wailing text because people think open source is hard to use? Welcome to the intarwebz.

  18. @AnOpenSourceDeveloper - Thanks for the comment. Funny, I don't find the same tone on sites like StackOverflow, for example. Maybe I missed something. And there are plenty of "hard to use" topics being discussed there daily.

  19. Morning all.

    I spend many hours a day on the pentaho forums and irc channel moderating and answering questions whilst also doing a 'proper' job, I am not a Pentaho employee just someone that learn't how to use Pentaho from the community and wants to give something back.

    I have no problem in spending so much time helping others, but whilst I do admit some of my answers are a) a little terse or b) a little tongue in cheek, I do have a problem re-answering questions that are asked on a daily basis and people don't want to look up for themselves.
    That being said in a lot of cases I will point them to the right place.

    Also even you must be able to tell that "Please make an effort" part is a signature, universal, and points people in the right direction if they need more immediate help, either a) the wiki or b) the irc channel where we can help them in real time, and I don't see the problem with it.

    So whilst there may be occasions where I perhaps could be more professional, if people don't want to help themselves, I am also of the mindset that, if you get yourself into a position where you are implementing a BI Solution that means you have a brain, and if you have a brain you should be able to help yourself somewhat.

    Anyway I shall continue answering forum posts in the same way as your harvesting of course ignores the very high daily percentage that go answered in at least some manner that is both professional, polite and useful.

  20. Hi @Tom and thanks for the input from a forum insider. I'm curious about your statement here though:

    "I do have a problem re-answering questions that are asked on a daily basis and people don't want to look up for themselves."

    Do you find this to be the case often? Meaning that people are simply lazy and just post questions w/o even trying to get a basic education first?

    Just curious what your perspective is on that.

  21. "A Customer is an entity" - Sorry, but this is exactly what I meant when talking about not having the service or customer gene. No sir, a customer is not an "entity" in your CRM, it's a human being, a person. And should be the center of the world. I doubt you would like to be considered an "entity" at your favorite vendor. And I doubt they refer to you in public as such.

    Read more:

  22. Hi Jerome,

    Over the couple of years I have been moderating we have often had many repeating posts asking the same basic questions, a lot of these forum posters and IRC users you could pinpoint to a certain geographic area, and whilst it may be reasonably unhelpful to them in the short term to tell them to go look it up, I have no problem in doing so, because I am hoping that along the way they may find many more useful resources and posts that will help them further.

    After all I have absolutely no problem answering peoples posts thats why I do it, but I'd rather keep my time free to answer the more original posts that endlessly repetitive ones, like "Change the base-url in web.xml".


  23. @JORGE,

    I think you probably meant to post something else? :)

  24. Jerome,

    When I first saw your post I figured it was some nut with an axe to grind and was going to ignore it. Through the course of the day I received emails from some of the Pentaho community members, saw the tweets and blog replies and thought I need to at least look into your complaints. I began searching for the specific posts you referenced. Each one I looked at and compared to how you took the quotes out of context just pissed me off more and more until I had to reply.

    The following is a hyperlink to each reference in the order you reported them. Your readers can have the opportunity to see real people helping real people with real problems. Not all of the replies are perfect and there are a handful of people that got no help at all. The vast majority did get their issues answered and most have gone on to help others as long time community members.

    I take great exception to your use of terms like condescending, social superiority, berate, ignore and insult to describe the people in the Pentaho community. I have personally met many of these people and their families over the years and I assure you – the Pentaho community, specifically the people that answer the vast majority of the forum posts, are an outstanding bunch of human beings.

    I don’t mind criticism or feedback on how we as a Company can do better, I welcome it. I know we have products that could be easier to use or better documented. Any stones you want to throw at Pentaho as a company is just part of doing business. Do not insult the volunteers who may get frustrated, but instead of bitching about it on some blog, participate in the solution. It’s a shame that while you were utilizing those 2 decades of IT experience to get Mondrian working, you never posted once to help someone else. Note: I am assuming that you are the person registered as “jeromepineau” since May of 2009. If I am wrong, I apologize.

    I think you will find that most of the frustrations in the following posts are about the product and not the people. In most responses, the community is helpful and understanding. Some people do fall through the cracks. When someone gets a no reply, there can be many reasons including no one who has read the post knows the answer and moves on assuming someone else will pick it up. We do talk about community expectations and how open source works on the community wiki home page - We also explain that professional support is available. I will make that info more prevalent on the forum itself.

    Please take the time to read through these cases and I think you will find that these people are not trying to make you feel bad about yourself or conjure up some deep childhood memories of Medieval schooling. I think you will find that they are a lot like you, you know, except for the participating part ;^)

    Doug Moran

    PS I'm sorry this post is so long - I have to split it into 3 parts to get past the 4,096 char limit imposed by Blogger.

  25. PART 2 of 3 from Doug Moran:
    Ends with “Thanks for the answers”
    This one you even quoted the answer, again without context: "You use the search button”
    I agree it’s a bit crass but he does follow up that post with another post (same timestamp) providing a link to the tutorial the person was looking for.
    And, since you went through the trouble to include “Version 2/3/3.5 brings in lots of changes to the way Pentaho does things, please mention which version of the BI server you are running.
    Join the Unofficial Pentaho IRC channel on freenode. Server: Channel: ##pentaho - Please try and make an effort and search the wiki and forums before posting!"
    I want to point out it is his signature and good advice and mentions the IRC channel where you can get help also. bugg_tb is also a volunteer and answers massive amounts of questions (2169 forum posts) and is most helpful on the IRC.

    No answer on this one. He has gotten answers on other posts and has been an active member since 2005
    This guy got an answer despite his rudeness
    Looks like a great example of cooperation to me
    Question answered correctly
    This guy wasn’t asking for help, he was posting a link to his blog with a good article and was thanked by 2 community members
    No reply. This guy does have other posts that were answered and has commented on posts
    No reply, this guy is new and has a couple unanswered posts – not good.
    He got an answer and didn’t follow up. Also, there are very few people that could answer this question including most Pentaho developers
    No Reply, this guy is new and has a couple unanswered posts – not good.
    No reply although he has a couple dozen posts with answers going back to 2007
    No answer to a few of his posts. Most, like this one, do not have a clear question that someone can answer. The posts that were replied to asking for more info were ignored. Generally the “Can someone do my job for me” questions are ignored.
    Looks like someone tried to help and gave up.
    No reply here. This person has been a pretty active community member for over a year and has gotten and given help on a couple dozen threads
    This person got a solution and has been a community member since 2007
    This person didn’t get much help with their Oracle issues in 3 different posts although someone tried. Maybe no Oracle experts watching back in 2007
    Answered – there was a bug and he got a workaround.
    No answer but in the 2 years he has been in the community, other questions were answered.

    The dashboard builder question was tacked on to an unrelated dashboard thread 2 weeks after the original question was answered.
    This was a good post with feedback on how we can make the evaluation of Pentaho easier and was welcomed
    He was frustrated but got lots of help
    Sorry he was frustrated but he was using version 1.2 which was over a year and a half old and 2 versions behind. He did get a response to upgrade to a version that did what he wanted.
    This is another interesting quote: “I got frustrated that i cannot get a decent quality, well formatted pdf output.” Which was preceded by an apology. The person who made this statement has been active since 2006 with 278 posts including today. He is one of our most valued community testers for the new report designer.
    You didn’t mention that the sentence before saying “… I really had to grind through the first 10 days…” was “I'm loving kettle right now. There are so many things we used to manually write that can be hammered out in this tool WAAAAYYY faster, and with better performance, consistency, etc. on top of it.” It was well accepted feedback
    So this quote, “A few weeks ago I was very frustrated that I was completely lost withing thePentaho suite. I cannot afford training (I'm broke, plus I live too far away from the traing venues) so my only means at this stage is all of the above” is one community member reassuring another member that there is a learning curve but it is doable and that he was in the same boat. Since 2007, when this post was made, that community guy has become one of the more active in the IRC and has over 164 posts helping people on the forums.
    Yes, this person was frustrated that in 2007, we were not a drop in replacement for Crystal Reports. He was answered by another long time community member. The last few quotes have been over 2 years old and for a 5 year old open source company that’s pretty old.
    This person was answered and actually found his own mistake.
    This person got help with their frustration by a nice community person pointing them to tutorials and giving them a workaround for a known bug.
    A Pentaho developer helps on this one. And they are right – it was hard to embed Pentaho Reports into an existing website in 2007.
    Wow – had to reach back to October of 2006 for this one. Kettle was open sourced for less than a year. Well what do you know, with a little prodding, he gets the answer himself. We see this guy in the forums for at least the next 6 months.
    Frustrated, found a bug, reported the bug, the bug was fixed by a community guy, the new version worked. Sounds like open source.
    Frustrated by the session timeout value, reported it, two Pentaho developers respond. The guy making this is the all time most active reporting community guy with 1045 posts since 2003, 2 years before JFreeReport becomes part of Pentaho and before Pentaho became Pentaho.
    This poor guy got totally missed. Don’t know why although addressing a question to an individual is a good way to be ignored by anyone except that person.
    “Maybe a non-IT guy doesn't want to deal with SQL queries at all...” is a reasonable requirement from a user. BTW – the feedback was for wabit, a non Pentaho product.

  27. OH Yeah the responses part... Doug Moran
    "If all that is true then it is clearly a bug in mondrian and you should report it in jira."
    Here, the moderator seems to question whatever the premise of the question was (as if people bothered posting lies...)
    If you bothered to read the post (I assume you are not posting lies) it would be obvious that after 2 days, and several replies, the assumption on the part of the community person is that it must be a bug. I don’t see any place where there is any implication of lying. You also misidentified the person as a moderator when his title is clearly “Junior Member” with less than 30 posts. It is also possible that being from Slovenia, it was an unusual choice of words and not some horrific transgression.

    "The procedure is exactly as I have told you. You must have done something wrong somewhere. Just check through carefully;"
    Typical "you must have screwed up something" response. How encouraging and a little condescending if you ask me.
    Again, read the thread – it’s 15 posts over 6 days trying to help someone. I can’t tell if it’s frustration at not being able to solve the problem or a language issue. It’s the same guy from above.
    "If not, please post the error. We're not clairvoyant."
    I’ll give you this one, although the guy did get his problem straightened out.
    "There might be a simpler way... search the doc."
    This is 1 of 4 proposed solutions and I’m not sure it was meant to be condescending.

  28. Hi Jerome,

    First of all: thank you for mentioning our book! You sure found a way to stir up things and get a lot of attention, so this will undoubtedly increase book sales as well.

    Now, instead of trying to argue with you (which won't change neither your nor my opinion so why waste the time? ;-)) I spent a couple of minutes to dig up the following from the Pentaho forum:

    “Woohoo!! I just tested this and it works great! One of my biggest frustrations with the new PRD was how I can handle my roles elegantly, since I use it in all of my reports. This approach solves it perfectly.
    Great work guys!”

    “Great! It works perfekt
    Thank you! ”

    “I will try it and let you know how it works.
    Thanks again ”

    “Thanks Ingo for your answer!”

    “mmichael, This approach makes sense to me and I wonder why something like this isn't built in already for use within an action sequence? I tested the solution you described here leveraging the adhoc calendar control and it works great and requires minimal changes.”

    “Thank you for this helpful thread.”

    “Thanks, I will try ASAP “

    “Thanks, it works great with a few minor changes”

    “Great ! Then, my example in my previous post (with companyName) would work ? ” (answer: Yes)

    “Great news !! Thanks a lot diddy !
    Date are working like a charm ”

    “Thanks Julian and Pedro for your feedback! I'll download the latest build and have a look”

    “Thanks a lot Adrien for your feedback!”

    “both of your solutions sound great and thanks for the transformation”

    I guess it's just a matter of what you want to read. To be fair: we did have a very good reason for writing a 632 page book (which, by the way, is more than just a Pentaho reference or tutorial. It contains an extensive BI primer as well) We too felt that most novel users have a hard time figuring out how everything works and fits together. You can imagine our joy when people like Nick Goodman and Pedro Alves mentioned that they would have liked to have this book around when they started working with the software a couple of years ago; exactly the response we were hoping for ;-)

    So thanks again for starting a great discussion and mentioning our book! I'll make sure you'll get a copy; based on your photo you're courageous enough to use it !

    Best, Jos van Dongen

    ps. please DM me your address for sending the book

  29. @Doug,

    "It’s a shame that while you were utilizing those 2 decades of IT experience to get Mondrian working, you never posted once to help someone else..."

    Not exactly accurate. I actually wrote a whole post about Mondrian here:

    The funny thing is I still get questions every so often from people who are struggling with your product and can't find answers anywhere. So as a last ditch effort, they somehow find my post and sometimes comment (sometimes email) me for assistance. I do the best I can with my limited knowledge.

    "Please take the time to read through these cases..."

    I'm sorry but if there was a link included somewhere it got lost - can you point me to the cases you mention? (or email them to me and I am more than happy to follow your advice and examine those of course.


  30. @Jos,

    Thanks for the post and taking the time to dig up the positive posts. As I mentioned in my piece, there are indeed success stories and satisfied users of Pentaho quite obviously. At no time did I imply that _everybody_ was getting ignored or frustrated. Obviously if everyone's outcome matched those I pulled out, then Pentaho Mondrian would not have met with the success it has.

    What I decry is the perception that is being sold/marketed with OSBI and Mondrian in particular (but others play the same game granted) that OSS is God's gift to the world and will help solve every user's dream for free.

    This is in fact a hoax as OSS is no different from closed-source proprietary software in that respect as the comments above will attest to. There's nothing magic about OSBI and the pain involved in it is quite under-reported IMO.

    The reality is that in order to use these tools, you have to be a real solid IT guy who can read and process the information in your book (from what I understand) - there's nothing wrong with that, but people should be aware of it - that the learning curve is sharp and high, it's a "no pain no game" endeavor, and failure rates are quite high. IOW, just like commercial software (closed-source).

    For people who want to get something up and running quickly w/o all the drama of OSBI, then clearly SaaS is a cleaner quicker path. Doesn't mean OSBI is bad, just falsely marketed IMHO. Additionally, the attitude towards non paying users is, IMO, very descriminatory. Seems to me they're 2nd class citizens so if that's the case, fess up and tell them so - manage their expectations. Don't lead them to believe they can get something for free would be my advice.

    I appreciate your offer for the book! IMO everyone who pulls down Mondrian bits should probably be warned to either buy a copy or fend for himself :) - And if you are kind enough to send me a copy as you mention, then I will happily accept!

    Yours in BI,

  31. Jerome,

    I think there was a problem pasting the links into the comment box, I did get a couple strange errors. I have posted the complete response to my blog since it was the easiest place for me to post it.

    It might be best to just link to it, or if you want to copy it - go ahead, sorry for the hassle

  32. @Doug, no hassle! I'm just grateful you took the time to do this.

  33. rather than get into a debate with jerome, anybody who is reviewing this blog should read james Dixon's 'beekeeper' story, describing commercial open source BI, to understand how the system works, rather than accept jeromes opinions....

  34. @David,

    First, I don't think anyone here is automatically accepting Jerome's opinion - believe you me :)

    Second, I always encourage people to read/analyse different viewpoints before forming an opinion. I am just one voice out there. In that context, I second your recommendation wholeheartedly. As a matter of fact, I also recommend people check out Matt Madsen's (Third Nature) latest OSS report Open Source Solutions: Managing, Analyzing and Delivering Business Information. It's also full of very interesting insight.

    Thanks for commenting.

  35. Hi,

    FYI: it's Mark Madsen, not Matt (

    The report is here
    (requires login)

  36. @Roland - So it is. Thanks for the correction.