Archive for the 'Products' Category
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.
This weeks puzzle:
A customer upgraded to Sage (PeachTree) v2015 last week. Everything seemed to work fine, but their most important Crystal Report wouldn’t run because it uses Sage custom functions, and those functions were not showing up in Crystal. The Sage software has a button to install these custom functions, but clicking this button didn’t change anything. Sage support couldn’t solve the problem so the customer called me.
I know that all Crystal custom functions come from DLLs and I assumed that this Sage DLL was either missing or in the wrong place. The customer asked Sage support for the name of the DLL so we could search for it. They sent him lots of information, but not the file name.
So the customer did a fresh install of Sage v2015 on a local PC, and everything worked correctly. So I opened up Crystal and could see the Sage custom functions listed together – along with the name of the DLL. We searched for that file (U2Lpeach.dll) and found it in:
We then checked that same folder on the server and found that the DLL was in that same folder. But yet when we opened Crystal on that same server the Sage functions were not visible. Crystal had several other custom functions that were working, so I searched for those DLLs and found them in a different folder on the server:
C:\Program Files (x86)\Business Objects\BusinessObjects Enterprise 12.0\win32_x86
Since we knew that Crystal could read the DLLs in that folder, we copied the Sage DLL and pasted it in with the others. Once we restarted Crystal the Sage functions appeared. The difference probably has to do with a windows environment variable somewhere, but rather than mess with the server settings we decided that a duplicate DLL was workable solution.
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 is one new product this year for a total of 11 products. 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.
Regular expressions, for those of us who don’t see them often, are a group of symbols that allow you to efficiently define a complex string pattern. You can define this pattern with optional characters, varying lengths, and alternate spellings and punctuation. Below is a simple example showing how you would define the pattern found in a formatted height value using feet and inches:
This says that the string must start with a digit. The digit must be followed by a single quote and then an optional space. The string must end with either 1 or 2 digits followed by an optional double quote.
Unfortunately, regular expressions are not a native feature of Crystal syntax. But Ido Millet of Millet software has just added several functions to the Cut Light DLL that make regular expressions available inside Crystal formulas. The functions allow you to test, search and replace strings based on the patterns defined using regular expressions. To read more about Cut Light as well as other DLLs that can add power to your Crystal formulas, you should read my article on User Defined Function Libraries (UFLs).
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 many users never see. These are third party products that allow your users to 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 includes 9 products, including CR Server, itself:
Crystal Reports Server – a traditional Web portal
Report Runner Web Portal – a traditional Web portal
CSS Portal with CRD – a traditional Web portal
Visual Access Report Server – a traditional Web portal
Ripplestone– a traditional Web portal
RVweb – a traditional Web portal
rePORTAL – a traditional Web portal
RV for Windows Pro – a server-based viewer
Report Launch – a bridge between BO server products and server based applications
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. If you have any feedback to share on these tools I would be happy to hear form you.
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) Calculate distances between zip codes or long./lat. coordinates.
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, where Millet Software has added a handful of new functions. You will find these highlighted in the matrix. If you need help deploying one of these functions in a project let me know.
In 2012, I wrote about a tool that allows you to update the data source in all the reports in a folder. It is called CR Data Source and is put out by R-Tag. The original version would only work on reports that use a single connection, which is the majority of the reports that I do. But R-Tag has just updated this tool so that it can deal with reports that have multiple connections. It will still only work with OLEDB and ODBC connections. If you want to learn more about the tool, you can check out a short video on the CR Data Source web page.
I just had a call from a customer who wanted to run lists of reports grouped by the report ‘owner’. They wanted to know the simplest way to enter this into each report and also have it available to create lists of reports for each owner. Their original plan had been to add a text object to each report to display the owner info, but they couldn’t think of a way to generate lists based on that data.
As it happens, Jeff-Net had just let me test drive their new tool for doing report management and documentation, called Report Runner Documentor. It is simple to use and is available for free. My favorite part is how easily it loads the report’s information (tables, fields, links, formulas, summary info, etc) into a SQL Server database. This allows you to create reports about your reports.
So I suggested that my customer put their ‘owner’ information into one of the five “Summary Info” fields like “Author” or “Keywords”. These are found in each report under “File > Summary Info”. These fields can be displayed on the report, and they also get stored in the Documentor database. They can then tap into this database to create their own lists in Crystal Reports, using that field for grouping or filtering. Uncomplicated and inexpensive.
This past July I reviewed report management tools like this one and posted a feature comparison matrix. Since then I have written about two new tools so those have just been added. So, for the complete list of the tools available in this group you can read my updated annual comparison.
ReCrystallize has just released a simplified edition called ReCrystallize Light. Like ReCrystallize Pro, it generates a web page for each of your reports. These pages allow your users to run, refresh and export those reports on demand from your intranet, extranet, or SharePoint site. The Light edition doesn’t have all the features of ReCrystallize Pro but it is simpler to use and less expensive.
So what features are only found in the Pro edition? For a complete list of differences between the Light and Pro you can see the comparison posted on the ReCrystallize Web site. Some key features found only in the Pro edition include the ability to:
- Run reports that use more than one database connection.
- Change the database connection/DSN/server name at runtime.
- Create customized forms for parameters.
- Pass hidden parameter values within a URL or from an application.
If you need any of these you will need to upgrade to the Pro edition. Otherwise you might want to give the Light Edition a try. Either way there is a free trial.
The developers at R-Tag have released two new tools for managing reports.
The first, R-Tag Crystal Reports Documentation and Search, is for searching and documenting reports. For example you can find all the reports with Saved Data, or PaperSize = A4 or the expression BackColor = CrSilver. It supports search in text, formulas, SQLExpressions, table names and any other report property. The price is $299 for the first user and $49 for any other user.
The second, R-Tag Crystal Reports Version Control, is a full source code management system like Visual Source Safe. It provides the ability to check reports in and out, keep all prior versions, restore previous versions and check for changes between the versions. In addition it includes all of the features of R-Tag Crystal Search. It costs $999.