I recently tried out Metabase, an light weight open source reporting solution. The premise is straight forward. It’s a simple reporting tool allowing users to ask “questions” using a GUI, selecting physical columns from the tables in a connected database. Installation was simple – download a .JAR file, run via JDK command line and within a couple minutes the metabase application is up and running. Simply create a connection to a data source, and you can start running queries.
Limited metadata can be added, mostly in the form of hiding columns, adding descriptions, and defining keys between tables to allow users to select columns from multiple tables without having to define the join itself. Query results can be displayed in a straight or pivot table, or visualized in basic graph types. It does have geographic mapping solutions, but not native out of the box.
Additionally, users can also issue SQL (either handwritten, or by converting a GUI created question into SQL). This is something that many other BI tools lack, or if they do offer, it’s hidden away as an admin only function for testing and troubleshooting. Metabase allows for the user of dashboard prompts to drive handwritten SQL, via various types of variables.
Unfortunately, shortly after I started using it, I ran into my first issue. Using the GUI, I tried to find the total sales and unit quantity from a sales table; but kept getting an error. Looking into the error, it was due to the SQL generated ended up with two columns both aliased as “sum”; then attempted to order by “sum”, resulting in an ambiguous column error. I added the issue to the project’s git; but as this is an open source project, a new user such as myself (who is unable to fix the issue in the product) doesn’t have much sway.
For users who wanted a tool that allows them to visualize handwritten SQL with the ability to add dashboard prompts, this tool may be worth while (perhaps an open source solution to periscope data). But I was looking for something that would provide a solution to users who were not as versed in writing SQL as I, and without the ability to sum two columns in the same query, it isn’t yet something I can bring to my users as an option.