I did a fair amount of research on the web regarding the state of various open source reporting packages. BIRT received quite a few excellent reviews and they also have an upcoming integration with the Zend platform/framework that I had to give it another go.
So back to the drawing board, and did an install of Eclipse and the automated install / update of BIRT. I suspected there was an issue with the latest version of BIRT (2.1.1) and decided to install the older version (2.1.0). This proved to be a smart move and I was up and running with BIRT. Their website is quite nice and has lots of detailed informtion (which did not really help me in my first installation attempt). I started off with the Basic Tutorial, though i modified it to use the CiviCRM database and decided to create a Phone Book for the sample data. The User Interface for creating reports in BIRT is significantly more sophisticated, cleaner and simpler than the equivalent one in iReport. It probably took me less than an hour to create a group listing by state of all my individual contacts in the database. Not bad for a reporting tool :).
I'm still playing around with it and potential integration opportunities with CiviCRM. So far i'm fairly impressed with BIRT and the eclipse platform. (though personally i will probably continue using emacs to edit/debug CiviCRM php code).
More entries on this blog as I discover them. As always comments and/or questions are welcome and appreciated