Archive for the 'Alternate Reporting Tools' Category
I received a call this week from a potential customer who said he wanted me to help him modify some reports. But then he started talking about iNet Clear Reports. I told him that I did Crystal Reports and had never heard of Clear. He said that Clear was “just like” Crystal and he was convinced that I could help him.
While we were talking I did a quick web search and found an image of the Clear design environment. I was surprised at how much it looked like the CR design environment. I also saw that it was previously named “Crystal Clear” which I remember reading about years ago. So I decided to remote into his PC and see what the tool was like.
As soon as I started exploring a report I found that most things were pretty much where I expected them. For example, the report sections were named the same way and had very similar properties. The field explorer had the same nodes. The formulas were written in either “Crystal Syntax” or “Basic Syntax”. In the end I was able to make most of the required changes to the report, including adding a SQL Expression and fixing a formula. My learning curve was pretty mild.
After we were done I downloaded the iNet Clear Report Designer (Windows) and played around with it. It is clearly modeled on Crystal Reports, with many features copied exactly. There were many differences but they were both positive and negative. For instance there is no way to modify the report while in preview mode. And some simple changes generated odd errors.
On the other hand, the Clear designer can be run on Linux. I liked the ability to add SQL for a dynamic parameter right in the parameter window. I also liked that the Field Explorer shows the data type for all field types, including parameters, formulas and SQL Expressions.
I still prefer Crystal Reports, but I plan to study the features of iNet Clear Reports and eventually add it to my comparison of reporting tools. And since it is so similar it will probably end up listed on my consulting page.
After reviewing a few more BI products, I have decided to focus my comparison of Crystal alternatives on true reporting tools rather than the broader category of BI tools. My guiding question is still this:
If I were to switch from Crystal Reports to another product, what features would I gain and what features would I lose?
I found that several of the leading BI tools provide primarily high level summary and/or visualization. They don’t have the ability to create the day-to-day operational forms (invoices, purchase orders, custom reports). I create these every day in Crystal Reports. So I have dropped some of the tentative columns in the original grid and replaced them with two more true reporting tools, Jasper Reports and Cognos Impromptu.
The two new columns have been started but are not completed yet. I was able to fill in the rows that describe each tool’s basic approach, but I don’t know all of the detailed features that each supports. If anyone has a working knowledge of these tools and is willing to fill in some of the feature rows, that would be a great help.
When CR 2011 was released SAP also introduced Crystal Reports for Enterprise. SAP stated at that time that they were going to focus their future development efforts on the newer product. They also stated that they would continue to support the standalone product, but the wording left some of us wondering how long that support would last.
Recently one of my newsletter subscribers sent me a link to an SAP wiki page. The page explains the difference between Crystal Reports for Enterprise and “classic” Crystal Reports. He found this statement in the overview:
“We will continue to support the Crystal Reports 2011/2013 line of products after Crystal Reports for Enterprise has caught up [with the features in CR].” It isn’t a promise of indefinite support but perhaps they won’t discontinue the stand alone version of Crystal reports any time soon. I certainly expect to be supporting Crystal for many more years.
And thanks to Joe Gaietto of Ohio MHAS for sending the updated link.
It seems just about any time I am shopping for something I find a larger selection and lower prices through Amazon. Competing with Amazon is an obvious challenge for any business. So when Amazon announced their own cloud based BI product called QuickSight it got my attention. QuickSight will allow users to visualize their Amazon Web Service (AWS) data as well as data from other sources. Amazon claims that their price is 1/10th the cost of local BI options. Their Standard Edition is $108 per user per year, with the Enterprise Edition being twice that.
QuickSight is not limited to reading AWS cloud data. They are providing outbound connectivity so you can also analyze data that you store locally and data in other cloud services like SalesForce. All of the data is then processed by a new calculation engine they have created named Spice. QuickSight has it’s own visualization designer, but Amazon also provides inbound connectivity so users can tap into the Spice engine from partner tools like Tableau and Qlik.
According to an article on VentureBeat.com, cloud based BI is on the upswing from many vendors:
The rollout of [QuickSight] comes a couple of months after Microsoft’s cloud-based business intelligence service, Power BI, became generally available. And last year IBM brought its Cognos business intelligence software to its SoftLayer public cloud. Salesforce came out with its comparable Analytics Cloud last year, while startups like BIME, Birst, Domo, and GoodData offer standalone cloud BI tools.
They don’t mention that SAP has put their analysis engine, Lumira, in the cloud. You can get a free (trial) Lumira account just by registering. So it sounds like the future of both large scale data storage AND large scale data analysis may be in the cloud, with the biggest cloud provider of them all taking the lead.
Three months ago I mentioned plans for a new comparison matrix. The goal of this new matrix is to compare the features of Crystal Reports to the features of other reporting tools. I hope to find the right list of features to highlight the key differences in the products.
I am now ready to release the first draft of the matrix to get things rolling. I have also published a glossary defining the features included in this current draft. There are still blanks and questions, and the feature list will evolve, but I think we have a good start. The current matrix includes Crystal Reports and 5 other competing products:
- SQL Server Reporting Services (Report Builder)
- MS Access (reporting feature)
- List and Label
- R&R ReportWorks
There are also blank columns for Oracle BI Publisher and Tableau. I plan to start those next (with some help). If you are proficient in any of these tools (or another competing tool) here are the ways that you can help out:
You can fill in part or all of an empty column
You can review columns that are complete and see if any features are marked incorrectly.
You can suggest new feature rows that you think will highlight the differences in the products.
You can suggest an additional tool like the ones below.
LogiXML Ad Hoc
I will add tools based on interest level, and the availability of someone to review the features.
In February I started an ambitious project. I expect it to hit critical mass in 6-12 months. I want to compare Crystal Reports to the other leading BI tools. I plan to include SSRS, MS Access, Tablaeu, QlikView, Indicee, Logi Ad Hoc, List and Label and a few others. The goal will be to help users understand how these tools are different and therefore which tool is best for a specific set of requirements.
One challenge is that these tools are very different in both purpose and approach. So my plan is to create a detailed feature matrix showing what each tool can do and also how it is different. The process and the end result will resemble the comparisons I do for third party products.
Another challenge is that I am not an expert in most of these tools. So, like I do in my other comparisons, I will rely on the people who know the tools best. Ideally the vendors will provide the information directly. One vendor already has. Vendors who want their software represented accurately have some incentive to participate. And when the vendor doesn’t participate I will recruit competent users to review the feature list and mark the features supported by each product.
My job will be to tease out the features that best highlight the differences between products. I will also have to write up the feature definitions so that they are objective and meaningful.
Would you like to help? There are several ways to get involved:
1) Tell me the tools you think I should include, especially ones I didn’t mention. That will help me prioritize products.
2) If you have expertise in any of these tools you can volunteer to review the feature list for that product.
3) Even if you have only limited experience with one of these tools, your impressions would be welcome.
Today’s comparison comes courtesy of Hessel de Walle, from The Netherlands. Much of his blog is in Dutch, but he has written two articles that compare specific tasks done in both Crystal Reports and SSRS. The first is creating alternating section colors. The second is doing page number resets and “page N of M”. The third is creating running totals.
I recently had to convert a complex Crystal Report into a SQL Query, including all the calculations. I eventually found ways to convert everything that was needed and learned some valuable SQL skills. But I also learned to appreciate the things I take for granted in Crystal syntax, things that have no equivalent in SQL syntax. Here are some examples just in case someone else has to do a similar conversion:
1) One huge difference is how simple it is in Crystal to reference one expression in another. Crystal will automatically calculate a series of dependent formulas in the right order, based on which formulas refer to others. In a SQL query, if you write a calculation for column A and you want to use that as part of the calculation for the next column, you can’t simply refer to column A by name. Instead you have to repeat the entire calculation.
The exception is Continue Reading »
Converting Crystal formula logic into SQL queries
And now, another post in my series Crystal Reports vs SSRS:
As part of my research, I am recreating one of my own reports in SSRS. I can already see several things that will frustrate a Crystal Reports user. I have listed the first three below. It may be that my lack of experience in SSRS is showing, but to me these seem like true limitations:
1) When I start a new report in Crystal I can use the Database Expert to quickly explore the data structure. I can log into an ODBC or OLEDB connection and instantly get a list of the tables it has available. Then I can select one or more tables and see the list of fields in each table. I can even Continue Reading »
Crystal Reports vs SSRS #2
When I started teaching Crystal Reports in 1995 I was also teaching another tool called R&R. In comparing the two I found that R&R had about 20 features that were missing from that year’s version of Crystal. Crystal had five features I liked that were missing in R&R. But the next year, when the next version of CR came out, the numbers had flipped. Most of the R&R features that I had mentioned were now included in Crystal. That started my transition from R&R to Crystal. So yesterday, when I made my first attempt at comparing Crystal Reports and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) there was a bit of déjà vu.
For the past 8 years I have been able to Continue Reading »
Crystal Reports vs SSRS