In June, Cognos, Seagate Software, and OLAP@Work shipped updated OLAP client tools, so look for the OLAP Client Wars to heat up. (All three companies are based in Canada, and two former Cognos employees founded OLAP@Work.) I don't mean to suggest that the other BI vendors such as Business Objects, Hummingbird, Brio, and Information Advantage are resting on their laurels. They, too, have recently shipped updated OLAP clients, but the new products built specifically for SQL Server 7.0's OLAP Services are most likely to gain market dominance. Microsoft was impressed enough with OLAP@Work to have the company participate in the Microsoft Office 2000 launch. Now might be a good time for Microsoft to do some hard bargaining.

Here are some features of the three OLAP Client Wars contenders: Cognos' NovaView 2.0, an OLAP client codeveloped with Panorama Software (the company that created the original OLAP Services that Microsoft ships with SQL Server 7.0), now exposes the entire multidimensional expression (MDX) function set, supports write-back (NovaView 1.0 offers read-only access to cubes), what-if analysis, and multiple hierarchies. NovaView 2.0 costs $395 per user and requires the $995 Administrator module.

Seagate Software, which began offering a free OLAP client called Seagate Worksheet in July 1998, is now shipping a more powerful and free client called Seagate Analysis. Like Seagate Worksheet, Seagate Analysis is a standalone application for individual users and can access not only cubes from Microsoft OLAP Services but also data from other OLE DB sources, and now includes parts of Seagate's other main product, Crystal Reports. (Seagate is giving away a free 50-user license to Seagate Info 7, a middle-tier report server for Crystal Reports.)

OLAP@Work shipped an impressive update to its inexpensive ($99) Excel add-in, OLAP@Work for Excel 1.2. Adding to the report creation wizard and built-in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) in version 1.0 (which began shipping earlier this year) is a new calculations wizard aimed at popular business calculation needs, such as total, margin, percent margin, difference, percent difference, ratio, quick ratio, and distinct count. An even more significant release, 2.0, is scheduled to ship this fall. Expect new features to include additional task-oriented wizards to help automate queries that find, for example, the most profitable customers and salespeople, and that perform market analysis. But expect to find better Web support elsewhere.