Archive for the 'Products' Category



Review Crystal Reports and earn a $25 Amazon gift card

Friday 22 June 2018 @ 5:38 pm

The SAP Vancouver office celebrated the 25th anniversary of Crystal Reports last fall. They even sent me a commemorative pin as part of the celebration.

Now, in keeping with the ’25’ theme, they have asked TrustRadius to collect independent user reviews of Crystal Reports and Crystal Server. If you complete the process you get a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate.

Note that these reviews are structured and very detailed. I wrote a review of Crystal Reports, both to support the product and so that I could write about the process for my readers. It took me about an hour to complete. There are 9 different sections to the review and many of the sections ‘recommend’ at least 50 words. The sections are:

  • Use Case
  • Pros
  • Cons
  • Rating
  • Alternatives
  • Features
  • Data Sources
  • Data Sharing
  • Context

You can read my review here.

A few other notes.
1) TrustRadius is independent of SAP and SAP doesn’t see the reviews before they are published. However TrustRadius has to approve and publish your review before you get your gift card. It can take up to a week after your review is published to get the card.
2) Before you can start the process, you have to sign into TrustRadius using your LinkedIn account.

If you decide to write a review you can use this link. If you encounter any problems, let me know.




Another free method for comparing rpt files

Friday 8 June 2018 @ 4:56 pm

One of my readers, Jiri Bus, needed a thesis project.  He decided to write an application that performed a detailed comparison between two reports and showed all the differences. He calls it rpt_diff and released it under the MIT open source license. I recently wrote up a simple method that relies on the features included in the “Report Definition” export.  Jiri’s project takes a deeper dive into the object model and includes many more features for comparison.
His application is free but it takes a few extra steps to deploy and use. Here is what you need to do to use rpt_diff:

1) Download and install the 32-bit Crystal Reports runtime for .net.
2) Download and install KDiff or another equivalent program for comparing text files.
3) Create a new folder for the rpt_diff application file and associated files.
4) Download the (already compiled) rpt_diff.exe and place it in the new folder (no need to install it).
5) Place the two reports you want to compare into that same new folder.
6) Right click on my sample batch file and download it in the same new folder:

sample batch file

(Note – if you just click on the file link the file will open in the browser rather than downloading.)

7) Edit the batch file so that it has the correct path to KDiff and the correct names of the two rpt files to compare.
8) Save the modified batch file, close the file and then run it by double-clicking on it.

You should see two XML files open in KDiff, with all their differences color coded.

Any time you want to compare another pair of files, just copy them to this folder and put their names into the batch file.

And thanks again to Jiri Bus for sharing his work.




Server-based scheduler comparison (2018)

Monday 28 May 2018 @ 10:41 pm

I have just updated my comparison of server-based scheduling tools for 2018. These tools are similar to the desktop-based scheduling tools I write about every March, but these are designed to be run on server. This allows multiple people to schedule reports for automated delivery by Email, FTP or network folder.

There are 11 products on the list this year (one dropped and one new) and a few few feature updates and price changes. The blog page provides a brief overview of each product. It also has a link to the feature matrix that compares roughly 70 features of these tools. There is even a feature glossary that defines all the terms. So if you need a short course in automating Crystal Reports delivery, this is a pretty good place to start.




Listing all formula changes with Notepad++

Monday 14 May 2018 @ 12:09 pm

I have written several articles about the usefulness of Notepad++. I often use it to write or test complex formulas and SQL commands. I have also used it to see the affect of a logic change, by comparing the output (text) of the report before and after a change. I have even created a custom language interpreter so that Crystal formulas written in Notepad++ look better than they do in Crystal’s formula editor.

This week I found a new use that I should have seen before. A customer sent me two different versions of a complex report and we weren’t sure which one to use. We needed to see the differences between the formulas in the two reports. So I exported both reports to the format “Report Definition”.  This export creates a text file that lists all of the major settings of the report, lists the objects in each section, and includes the text of all the formula fields that are actively being used by the report.

Once I had the two Report Definitions, I opened them up in Notepad++ and used the “Compare” add-in. This took me straight to the handful of formula differences. It was easy to show these differences to the customer to see which version he wanted to use.

If you want to try out the Notepad++ with the Compare plug-in you will need to start by downloading Notepad++ version 7.4.2.  This is the latest version that includes the plug-in manager.  Once you have Notepadd++ installed you can use the plug-in manager to install the Compare plug-in.  After that you can update to the latest version of Notepad++.




Comparison of desktop-based schedulers (2018 update)

Tuesday 27 March 2018 @ 7:41 am

How would you like your reports to be automatically run, exported to a PDF and delivered to your Email InBox every Monday morning at 6am? The Crystal Reports designer doesn’t provide a way to do this (unless you upgrade to CR Server or BO Enterprise). But if you look at third party products like those on my LINKS page you will find several reasonably priced or free tools that do this. Some do even more. So every March I go through the list and publish a feature comparison on my blog.

There are 10 active products in the list this year. The page linked above provides a brief description of each product and lists the features that set it apart. Then there is a detailed feature matrix that shows the key specifics for comparison including prices. To clarify the matrix terminology I have written a feature glossary to explain what each feature means. Finally there are links to the vendor websites so that you can get more information on each product. In May I will be updating a separate article that compares server based scheduling tools. If you think one person can manage all of your scheduling you are probably fine with one of the desktop tools, regardless of the number of people receiving the scheduled output. But if you plan to have multiple people scheduling reports then you may want to consider a server based tool.




Finding changes in report output

Thursday 25 January 2018 @ 4:23 pm

I often work with large and complex reports. Sometimes making a minor change can have unexpected consequences. I like to be able to see that the only things that changed are the things I intended to change. If the report is long or dense it can be a challenge to identify changes. But I recently worked out a relatively simple way to identify all of the values on a report that have changed as the result of my formula changes. I use the “compare” add-on in NotePadd ++.

So the first thing I do is refresh the ‘before’ report so I know that I have up to the minute data. Then I export the entire report into TXT format, creating the file before.txt. Then I make my change(s) and export the entire report a second time into TXT format, creating the file after.txt. Now I open these two files in open NotePad++ and run a compare.  All of the differences will be highlighted and it is easy to see all the changes.

For example, one of my upcoming assignments is to simplify the formulas in a complex report without changing the output. So my plan is to use this method after each round of changes. Since nothing should be different, any changes I find in the compare process will be a sign of a mistake.

If you haven’t tried NP++ (which is free) you can read more about it here, including the best place to download it (see update below).

Update – I just tried to install NP++ for a customer and I couldn’t add the Compare plugin because the plugin manager was completely missing. After some research I found that the developer of the plugin manager module added a sponsorship image (an ad) and so the plugin manager is no longer included in new downloads. If you already have the plugin manager upgrades will not affect you, since this only affects new installs.  The developer of NP++  is working on a replacement plugin manager.

Since Ninite always installs the latest version I recommend that, for now, you download NP++ version 7.4.2 directly from the NP++ site.  This was the last version that came with the plugin manager. It should automatically update itself to the latest version of NP++.




Web based deployment options compared (2018)

Wednesday 17 January 2018 @ 10:59 pm

There are many ways to deploy Crystal Reports to users. I normally lean toward the simpler and less expensive options, like locally installed viewers, or scheduled delivery of PDF output. But there are environments where a web based option is necessary. The “official” options from SAP are Crystal (Reports) Server and BO Enterprise. But there are other, less expensive products out there that also web delivery of Crystal Reports. These third party products allow your users to run and view reports from a browser. You can also centrally manage your report deployment from a browser.

I have created a page on my blog that lists and compares these products, and I update it every January. This year the list features 10 products, one of which is new since last January:

Crystal Reports Server – a traditional Web portal
Report Runner Web Portal – a traditional Web portal
IntelliFront BI – a traditional Web portal
Ripplestone – a traditional Web portal
rePORTAL CR – a traditional Web portal
Bezlio – a SaaS Web viewer
ReCrystallize Pro – a launch page generator for the web
ReCrystallize Server – a server-based web viewer
Report Launch – a bridge between BO server products and server based applications
RapidStack – Web Portal service built around Business Objects Enterprise

The blog page mentioned above contains a brief rundown on what each product does and provides links to all of the product web sites. I have also posted a feature matrix (PDF) that shows some of the specifics for comparison, including prices. This year there are several new lines in the matrix. They show which tools encrypt credentials, provide system monitoring and allow you to launch reports from an external URL. If you have any feedback to share on these tools I would be happy to hear from you.




i-Net Crystal Clear Reports

Saturday 9 December 2017 @ 10:52 am

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.




Crystal Reports formula function libraries (2017)

Monday 27 November 2017 @ 6:31 pm

It is time for my annual comparison of formula function libraries. If you aren’t familiar with User Function Libraries (or UFLs) they are DLL files that add new formula functions to your Crystal Reports formula editor. With these functions your formulas can do some pretty amazing things like:

1) Carry values from today’s report to tomorrow’s report
2) Carry values from one report to another.
3) Append lines of text to an external text file.
4) Automatically copy a value to the clipboard.
5) Check the user name of the user running the report.
6) See if a file or folder exists (on your network or on the internet).
7) Rename/copy/delete a file on your hard drive or network drive.
8) Launch an application or run a batch file.
9) Execute a SQL statement (Select/Insert/Delete).
10) Send an Email using information in the report.
11) Create a table of contents or an index for your report.
12) Generate bar codes without having to install any fonts

If this sounds interesting you can read my complete comparison including a list of all the functions provided by each DLL. The five UFL providers are:

Bjarke Viksoe (U2lwin32)
Maginus Software (CRUFLMAG)
Millet Software (CUT Light)
Chelsea Tech (File Mgt, Text, Share and others)
CrystalKiwi (Export, Table of Contents)

The only product that has changed since last year is CUT Light, which can now do 16 different bar codes (without requiring special fonts) and can do distance calculations and drive times based on addresses as well as lat/long coordinates.

If you need help deploying one of these functions in a project let me know.




Report hyperlinks that export to a PDF

Wednesday 22 November 2017 @ 5:02 pm

I recently learned several things about passing hyperlinks from a Crystal report to a PDF while working on a customer project. The goal of the project was for every line of the report (each invoice) to have a clickable hyperlink. Clicking that hyperlink would open the corresponding PDF image for that invoice.

The pdf files were all stored in a network folder accessed by a UNC path. The path to the invoice PDF was stored as a character field in the invoice table. Here is an example:

\\FileServer\shared\Images\Invoices\12345.pdf

The report and the hyperlinks all worked fine in Crystal, but the customer wanted to deliver the report as a PDF. We found that once the report was converted to a PDF, the hyperlinks were no longer ‘clickable’.

The first thing I learned was that to get a report hyperlink to survive the transition into a PDF you have to use the Crystal Export function. Using a PDF print driver, like CutePDF or PDF Creator, will not allow the hyperlink to survive the transition. Even if you expose the entire hyperlink so that it is visible in the PDF, it won’t be automatically ‘clickable’.

The second thing I learned was that not all hyperlinks will survive even if you use the Crystal export process. They will survive if they are URL based hyperlinks or MailTo hyperlinks. But any file/path based hyperlinks, like my example above, will still not be clickable in the PDF. As above, even when you make the entire link visible in the PDF it would have to be copied and pasted to work. It won’t be automatically ‘clickable’ within the PDF.

This customer was also planning to use a third party product (Visual Cut by Millet Software) to generate the PDF files at a scheduled time. So I asked Ido Millet about the problem. He was aware of the limitation on file hyperlinks in PDF exports and had built a feature into Visual Cut to overcome it. Visual Cut had a batch file command called PDF_Auto_File_Link that would read through a PDF and convert file hyperlinks into ‘clickable’ links.

So, if you run into a challenge that involves PDF exports with hyperlinks, give me a call. I might just be able to help.




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