OfficeWriter v3 Enterprise Edition
One Suite Deal
By Steve C. Orr
Nearly every ASP.NET application of significant complexity requires data reporting functionality of one kind or another. For less demanding users, you may be able to get away with merely rendering data to the Web page. But it takes a lot of work to provide the kind of flexibility that power users demand. Managers often want to juggle numbers and adjust wording in unpredictable ways, and they usually want professional-quality charts, as well. This is why Microsoft created Excel and Word so why reinvent the wheel?
Wouldn t it be easier to simply hand the data off to those applications so users can edit the data in familiar and well documented ways? If your needs are fairly basic, it s not difficult to write custom code to export ASP.NET data to Excel and Word. However, if your requirements are even moderately complex, the learning curve can quickly get steep unless you re using a tool such as OfficeWriter by SoftArtisans.
OfficeWriter is a set of components designed to help generate real Word documents and Excel spreadsheets (see Figure 1) dynamically, without the need for Word or Excel on the server. Of course, users will need those programs installed (or the free viewer software downloadable from Microsoft) to be able to open the files.
Figure 1A: Harness the power of Excel to generate attractive charts.
Figure 1B: You can optionally tuck the underlying data away onto other worksheet tabs.
Paired with a moderately modern server, this speedy and reliable tool is capable of pumping out dozens of spreadsheets per second. Because it s pure .NET code to the core, it s especially expedient at handling pre-filled DataSets and should scale well into a variety of architectures.
After downloading the 18 megabyte free trial of OfficeWriter Enterprise Edition, running the installation program is a breeze. The samples will be automatically set up so you can run them immediately after the installation is complete without having to fiddle with IIS, virtual directories, security privileges, or other such nonsense that inferior installation programs tend to delegate to you.
The installation software provides a variety of useful options (see Figure 2), such as the ability to install COM wrappers around the software so it can be used from older, non-managed code bases. (OfficeWriter is also available for ASP and Java, if you should have the need.)
Figure 2: OfficeWriter v3 provides advanced integration with SQL Server Reporting Services, as well as a variety of other valuable installation options.
The redistributable merge module helps ensure your future deployment can go as smoothly as the OfficeWriter installation. There are no COM dependencies, and no DLLs that need to be registered.
The new HotCell capabilities of OfficeWriter allow spreadsheets and documents to keep themselves in sync with the server. This AJAX-like technology can send user edits to the server as they happen, so work is never lost.
Spreadsheets and documents can be generated at run time completely from scratch, or existing templates can be opened and populated with up-to-the-minute data. Formulas, graphics, charts, VBA macros, mail merge, multi-tab spreadsheet data, and pivot tables are all well within the capabilities of OfficeWriter, putting nearly every Word and Excel capability at your fingertips.
SQL Server Reporting Services
In 2004, Microsoft s SQL Server Reporting Services team approached SoftArtisans to fill a functionality gap. As a result, SoftArtisans released OfficeWriter for Reporting Services, permitting developers (and even end users) to design reports directly in Microsoft Excel and Word. Users never need to learn how to use some complicated reporting package ever again; they can simply use the OfficeWriter toolbar that s integrated inside the Microsoft applications with which they are already familiar.
This new version of OfficeWriter has even better support for Reporting Services, and the improvements are likely to continue well into the future since SoftArtisans continues to work closely with Microsoft to improve features and integration.
The OfficeWriter designer renders actual Reporting Services (RDL) files, preserving all Excel features in the process (which is more than can be said about the comparatively simplistic export features included with Reporting Services). There is no support for Word exports in standalone Reporting Services, which makes OfficeWriter a must-have product if you need such functionality.
The Complete Package
In addition to the great documentation and samples that are included with the product, there are also a variety of handy support options available on the SoftArtistans Web site. These options include extra helpings of sample code, always up-to-date documentation, answers to frequently asked questions, online forums (visited frequently by knowledgeable staff), and a knowledge base.
In the unlikely scenario that you can t find an answer through all those free sources, SoftArtisans also provides support subscriptions, maintenance plans, per-issue support, and various training options.
Although ExcelWriter and WordWriter can be purchased separately, OfficeWriter unites both into one suite deal. The Excel piece of OfficeWriter is the most mature, currently at version 6. OfficeWriter comes in two editions. The Standard Edition lets you open existing files and populate them with data. It also permits updates to charts and formulas and provides good Reporting Services interoperability. The Enterprise Edition adds the ability to create new documents and spreadsheets from scratch, and provides a lot of extra Excel functions that aren t included in the Standard Edition. It also allows you to use spreadsheets as data sources by providing the ability to read spreadsheet data. Extra charting capabilities are thrown in, as well. Prices start at US$1,495 per CPU for the Standard Edition, so this thing isn t cheap. But if you re serious about cranking out high-quality spreadsheets and documents for your corporation, this is the tool for you.
Steve C. Orr is an MCSD and a Microsoft MVP in ASP.NET. He s an independent consultant who develops software solutions for many leading companies in the Seattle area. When he s not busy designing software systems or writing about them, he can often be found loitering at local user groups and habitually lurking in the ASP.NET newsgroup. Find out more about him at http://SteveOrr.net or e-mail him at mailto:[email protected].
Price: Contact SoftArtisans for Enterprise Edition pricing.