Crystal Reports 8.5

Upgrades continue versatile reporting capabilities

Crystal Reports needs very little introduction - it's a recognized leader among report generators. In addition, Microsoft has bundled Crystal Reports intoMicrosoft Visual Studio for several years, so most veteran Visual Basic programmers are familiar with it. Then Microsoft decided to build a report writer (DataReport) and include it with Visual Basic. Now, although Visual Studio 6 still includes an earlier version of Crystal Reports, you have to know where to look to find it on the Visual Studio disks.

If you're only experience with Crystal Reports is the version packaged with Visual Studio, forget everything you know and get the 8.5 demonstration version; there's no comparison between version 8.5 and the version in Visual Studio. And Microsoft's DataReport is no competition at all.

Seagate Software, the company that produces Crystal Reports, was recently renamed Crystal Decisions. The release of Crystal Reports 8.5 quickly followed, but it's much more than a simple interim version. There are many new features that make an upgrade to version 8.5 an excellent decision. Although the ability to integrate reporting and analysis into intranet, extranet, and portal applications with Crystal Enterprise is reason enough, Crystal Reports 8.5 now supports cross-platform development, with support for Windows NT, Windows 2000, and UNIX. OLAP support is also much improved. The Report Publishing Wizard publishes reports to the Web in seconds. In addition to these impressive new features, there are enhancements to the Report Designer, analysis tools, export formats, and report viewers.

What Does It Do?

An ambitious product, Crystal Reports 8.5 has very versatile reporting capabilities. You can use Crystal Reports as a stand-alone report generator, writing ad hoc queries against a wide variety of data sources. There's nothing very remarkable about accessing databases with ODBC or even native drivers; those are standard features in a report generator. Crystal Reports 8.5 goes far beyond database and PIM support to include Lotus Notes and Domino, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft IIS, Microsoft SMS, Windows NT event logs, and NCSA-format Web server activity logs. When you do need to pull data from a SQL database, Crystal Reports can handle XML, OLAP, and relational data sources.

Crystal Reports excels at publishing data. You can create presentation-quality reports and publish those reports to the Web in seconds. There are many options for exporting reports: PDF, HTML, DHTML, XML, RTF, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, a variety of text formats, a variety of e-mail formats, etc.

With Crystal Reports 8.5 you can deliver rich, interactive content via the Web using Web reports that go far beyond static tables and forms. Available report viewers include a Netscape plug-in, Java, ActiveX, and DHTML. Interactive viewers let users drill down on charts and subreports, and even perform local printing and local exports. 

Crystal Reports 8.5 is not just a stand-alone report generator. It also integrates with Microsoft Office 97 and Microsoft Office 2000. Crystal Reports 8.5 takes advantage of Office's Add-in technology to automatically add report design capabilities to Excel and Access. Creating a report is as simple as selecting a spreadsheet, table, or query, then launching the Crystal Report Wizard.

Crystal Reports 8.5 integrates with the Microsoft Visual Basic 5 and Visual Basic 6 IDEs. It also integrates with the VBA IDE (the VBE) in Office 2000. You can open, design, and customize reports directly from the VB IDE/VBE.

 


 

Crystal Reports 8.5 gives developers unprecedented flexibility, with a range of components for Microsoft Visual Basic, Visual InterDev, Visual C++, Lotus Domino Designer, Informix NewEra, and Delphi. The developer version of Crystal Reports 8.5 adds a new COM-based component for embedding drag-and-drop report creation to your applications. You can interact with Crystal Reports through an ActiveX control, an Automation Server (OLE) interface, the Crystal Reports Print Engine API, a Delphi VCL control, or a class library for MFC.

Installation

Installation of version 8 could be, well, exasperating. Once you got version 8 loaded, the system was so extensive it was difficult to figure out where to start. Quite to the contrary, installation of version 8.5 is quick and easy. And because version 8.5 includes a familiar Microsoft Office look and feel, getting started is equally as easy.

Crystal Reports 8.5 is available in three editions that progressively add more capabilities. The Standard Edition provides report design and report publication features. The Professional Edition adds Web publishing features. The Developer Edition includes powerful development tools and samples. 

The professional and developer editions of Crystal Reports 8.5 include a five-user license for Crystal Enterprise. Crystal Enterprise replaces the Web capabilities from earlier versions of Crystal Reports with a new Web-based report publishing system. Crystal Enterprise can be deployed in single server or multi-server environments, and it's cluster-enabled. The result is highly scalable and reliable information reporting.

How Good Is It?

I tested Crystal Reports 8.5 on two machines: a 750 MHz Pentium III laptop with 256 MB of RAM running Windows 98, and a dual 866 MHz Pentium III processor server with 1 GB of RAM running Windows 2000 Server.

Crystal Reports 8.5 is impressive, but not perfect. Version 8.5 corrects some obvious blemishes, but there are a few features that still leave me muttering. One that especially perturbs me is the way Crystal Reports handles multi-line text boxes. If you want your text boxes to grow, and you want to stack them vertically, you need to separate them into distinct sections to prevent text bleeding across text boxes. Microsoft Access reports handle "can grow" text boxes much more gracefully. 

With that said, forget the DataReport in Visual Basic. Crystal Reports 8.5 continues to be the product of choice for adding powerful reporting capabilities to your applications.

Glenn Mitchell is president of .Com Consulting Group, a consulting firm in Tallahassee, Florida, specializing in Microsoft enterprise solutions. In addition to consulting, he lectures and writes about enterprise application development for Microsoft-sponsored conferences and journals, such as Microsoft OfficePRO. He can be reached at mailto:[email protected].

asp.netPRO Fact File

With versatile reporting capabilities, Crystal Reports is a recognized leader among report generators. Version 8.5 is more than a simple interim version. New features include the ability to integrate reporting and analysis into intranet, extranet, and portal applications with Crystal Enterprise. In addition, it now supports cross-platform development, with support for Windows NT, Windows 2000, and UNIX. It continues to be the product of choice for adding powerful reporting capabilities to your applications. 

Crystal Decisions

Phone: (800) 720-8586

Web Site: http://www.crystaldecisions.net

Price: Crystal Reports 8.5 Standard, US$199; Crystal Reports 8.5 Professional, US$395; Crystal Reports 8.5 Developer, US$495. Upgrades and multi-user licenses are available for the Professional and Developer editions.

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