Microsoft Crescent is a really cool Business Intelligence tool. Once everything is in place using it is incredibly easy and intuitive. And you can very easily play around with data to see what is going on. The most impressive to me is where you can have a chart animate and change over time so you can see the change in X/Y values over time. Super cool.
Add in Report Builder and you have a really good B.I. stack. (Report Designer too but that is a developer tool that is nice, but nothing great.) Again really powerful ways to set up data to perform ad-hoc queries on. ReportBuilder does a good job of providing a lot of control while keeping it pretty easy to use. You definitely need to be a power user, but you don't need to be a developer.
So how does Windward AutoQuery stack up against these? While I would like to say we're clearly superior, I have to admit that Crescent is comparable to AutoQuery. We're better in some ways, they're better in others. But to a large degree we're similar. Microsoft has done a really good job here and we're going to have to put in a lot of additional effort to surpass Crescent.
Which Business Intelligence tool to Use?
So which should you use? The simplest criteria is what you have installed. If you have SharePoint 2010, Sql Server Denali, etc. all installed then you have Crescent up and running. Use Crescent.
On the flip side if you do not have some (or all) of the required Crescent components installed and you just want to quickly get ad-hoc B.I., then use AutoQuery. In this case the Crescent route will require a lot of time and effort to install, configure, and administer all the components in the Crescent stack. For AutoQuery you install it on your workstation and you're in business.
How much control do you need over layout? With Crescent you have tables, cards, & graphs and you can arrange those blocks beside each other. That makes layout/report format simple, but also limited. With AutoQuery you are designing in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint so you can have any layout you wish.
What do you wish to display? With Crescent you have tables, cards, & graphs and that's it. If you want something else such as paragraphs of narrative text independent of a cell then you can't do that. Again with AutoQuery what you display can be anything.
Do you need to edit the semantic layer regularly? Both systems make that easy. But AutoQuery also gives you the option of directly querying the underlying data directly rather than having to edit the semantic model. I think it's better to edit the semantic model regardless (I'm a programmer) but if you want the option of going directly, only AutoQuery provides that.
Crescent does not have drill-down which I think is really weird. I think their approach is you would create another chart/table and when you click on an item in one chart, you see the detail on the other. But there are a lot of cases where clicking on an item you want to see a new set of detailed charts/table for that specific item. If you want that, AutoQuery is your only choice.
If you like the model of clicking on a specific item in a chart or table and having the other charts/tables display data for that one item, then Crescent is what you want. Both Crescent and AutoQuery support the mode where you select variable values from a list/tree and build all elements from that variable selection. (But come back in 3 months – we have some work on interactive charts that we started well before we saw Crescent. I think that will give us a nice advantage on this part.)
Crescent vs. AutoQuery
And with all the specifics above I think it comes down to two main items. First Crescent is a bit simpler to use, but in return is limited in functionality compared to AutoQuery. So the question is will simple work well for you?
And second it's the effort to install/configure/administer Crescent vs. none of that for AutoQuery. I think this is the key issue. If your company has Crescent in place and running – use it. It's all there, you have peers you can ask for help, and it gets the job done. If you do not have Crescent in place, then go with AutoQuery and avoid all the time and effort that would be required to install Crescent.