The Business Objects blogosphere is abuzz over the recent release of Xcelsius 2008 SP1 FP2 (Fix Pack 2). I’d be much happier to see Xcelsius 2008 SP2 (Service Pack 2), not just a lowly fix pack. After all, fix packs have not been “sanity tested” or “fully regression tested” as service packs are. But then again, neither have I.
A quick search on the Business Objects Board or Google reveals that many users have a love/hate relationship with the tool. On the love side, we have Loren Abdulezer’s great new Xcelsius 2008 Dashboard Best Practices book (if you use Xcelsius 2008, you need this well-written book – here is my review). On the hate side, there are tirades ranging from Mark Gibbs of Network World explaining How to Ruin a Great Application or visualization guru Stephen Few’s Fast Track To Nowhere.
My feelings for Xcelsius 2008 tend to fluctuate between the two extremes. On a recent project, a multinational client was enamored with using geographic maps to visualize sales data, only to find that a map for Canada was not included in the original product release. It was later sheepishly added to Service Pack 1. Curiously, Mexico is still missing from the product but at least we have maps for Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. No offense to citizens of those countries, but many US companies would like to map sales to their southern neighbor.
Then there were other bugs introduced with Service Pack 1 that made us yearn for Fix Pack 1. But when we installed Fix Pack 1, we ended up with new dashboard issues for dashboards that compiled perfectly prior to the FP. For a while, I had SP1 + FP1 installed and a co-worker had only SP1. We would toss coins to see who would compile which dashboards, depending on which bugs we wanted to disappear/appear in the dashboard. This is clearly not a great strategy and I imagine many Xcelsius customers are in similar predicaments. I am now running SP1 + FP1 + FP2. Fix Pack 2’s major achievement, despite a long list of fixes, seems to be increasing the frequency of Xcelsius crashes.
Despite its flaws, Xcelsius 2008 offers a lot of benefits and improvements over its predecessor, Crystal Xcelsius 4.5. Combined with Query as a Web Service (QaaWS) and the OpenDoc API for linking to Crystal Reports or Web Intelligence documents, Xcelsius 2008 allows organizations to see their data in powerful new ways that simply aren’t possible with Crystal Reports or Web Intelligence alone. Whether on the front line of a client project or in the classroom helping students learn Xcelsius 2008, I’m fully aware of (and grateful for) the possibilities.
It’s moderately encouraging that Xcelsius has been identified as SAP’s “flagship dashboard product”. But the next major release is not scheduled to arrive until 2010. In the meantime, I hope that the product’s overall stability can be addressed and improved.