I admit it. I'm a sucker for a bargain. Probably my New England heritage. For those of you not familiar with that part of the world, the word "retail" is not in the lexicon of New England. So you can imagine how I felt when I heard that Seagate Software, ensconced in Vancouver, Canada (about as far away from New England as one can get and still be in North America), was giving away its software for free.

Seagate Software is a subsidiary of Seagate Technology, the company that probably made the hard drive in your desktop or laptop PC. Since hard drives these days are practically give aways (I saw an ad the other day for a 47GB drive for $600), the powers that be at Seagate probably figured that they might as well give away their software as well.

Seagate competes in the very competitive front-end tool segment of the business intelligence (BI) market. There are the LAP guys (OLAP, ROLAP, MOLAP, etc.); the data mining types, report generators, query folks; a little company not too far from Vancouver that peddles a product called Excel which has more licensees than all the rest of the front-end tool vendors put together; and another little company from New England that has a product called 1-2-3 that used to have more licensees than anybody else in the analysis business.

BI Tools

Seagate Software had its genesis as Crystal Reports, possibly the most advanced reporting tool of its time. With a little financial help from its parent, Seagate Software moved down the food chain and now offers a complete suite of front-end tools for the business intelligence environment. Like everyone else in the tools business, Seagate looked for a hook to help snare new customers. Its rather unique solution is to give some of its stuff away, figuring to seed the market in its favor.

Seagate Analysis

The first free tool is called Seagate Analysis. This is a standalone desktop tool, which incorporates functions for ad hoc query, OLAP and reporting (borrowed from Crystal Reports). It is indeed a nice, reasonably simple-to-learn tool. You can download it (free, of course) from Seagate's Web site (www.seagatesoftware.com) and try it yourself.

Seagate Info

The second is Seagate Info. This tool is the real deal. It offers all of the functionality of Seagate Analysis, but supports multiple users for sharing, scheduling, security administration and off-load processing.

A large enterprise deploying Seagate Info would typically need a lot of licenses. Seagate gives the customer the first 50 licenses for free. Since the standard price for a five-user license is about $1,500, that's a retail (I hate that word) value of nearly $15,000. Not too shabby. Actually, Seagate Info comes in two flavors: the standard client version; and the designer version which, as you might have guessed, is more expensive. This version incorporates tools for designing reports, SQL queries, meta data and OLAP cubes.

Seagate Holos

Moving up the chain is a product called Seagate Holos, a development environment for applications. The product comes with several templates for such popular BI applications as customer profiling, budgeting/forecasting and balanced scorecard.

A significant plus for Seagate's architecture is its scalabilty. Seagate was among the first to offer a highly scalable solution. For example, I know that they have one customer, which has 110,000 users. These users access via thin clients over the company's intranet. Large enterprises are going to find ­ if they haven't already ­ that this kind of reach is essential in the new millennium.

So hurry on over to www.seagatesoftware.com and download Seagate Analysis or order up 50 Seagate Info licenses. Link up to some data from SQL Server, BackOffice, your favorite ERP database, or even a spreadsheet and put the stuff through its paces. You just might find that you got more than you paid for.

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