You use Crystal Reports to create, change and run reports. But what if you have a user who doesn’t need to create reports or even change them. This user just wants to refresh the reports and view/print/export the results. Does he need another copy of Crystal Reports? Do you need to configure an expensive web server?
The most cost effective method for letting users run reports on demand is to install a third-party client-based viewer. And I am amazed at how many Crystal Reports users are completely unaware that these are available, despite the fact that they are offered by a dozen different vendors.
This may be because the first ‘viewer’ users are likely to try is the one put out by SAP/BO. This ‘viewer’ is not in my list because it doesn’t perform the primary function of a viewer – allowing you to refresh a report. So it can pretty safely be ignored.
In this post I will compare most of the viewer programs available. I will provide their core features, prices, a brief introduction and what sets each product apart. Each section is linked to the vendor’s website so you can get more information if needed. I have also created a detailed feature matrix (XLS) that shows some of the specifics for comparison. To clarify some of the terms in the matrix I have written a glossary (PDF) of the terms used.
To avoid repetition, when I say a tool covers ‘all the basics’ I mean that it can:
1) Open and refresh an RPT file including parameter fields.
2) Preview the saved data in a report.
3) Preview and print the report.
4) Export to all of the standard file formats.
5) Run reports from a command line (like batch files).
6) Select an alternate data source at runtime.
7) Store and Encrypt the database passwords
8) Provide integrated authorization
Some tools add scheduling and Email capabilities. If those are features you want then you should probably read my comparison of desktop scheduling tools, which is updated every March.
One note on versions compatibility. Not all tools use the latest runtime engine (v13). So if you need to use the latest features (RPTR files or export to XLSX) you need a viewer with a v13 runtime. But the older runtime engines can still run the newest versions of reports, they just won’t be able to handle the latest features. So if you aren’t using any of the newest features the report will run the same in all of these tools. But if you are using any of the new v13/v14 features the report will still run fine, but the new features will not be displayed in the report. The runtime engine for each viewer is listed in the features matrix.
I have not tried to evaluate ‘ease of use’ because that is subjective. Instead, I recommend that you use this review to narrow your search to 2 or 3 tools. Then talk to the vendors. And last, use a free trial before making a decision. If you have already tried one of these products, or are currently using one I would love to hear your feedback.
In most cases I have not used the tools and rely on the vendor for information. So if you plan to purchase one of these tools, you will want to confirm with the vendor that the software will do what you want, in a way that works for you. Another reason to contact the vendor before making a purchase is to gauge their responsiveness. I have received complaints about the lack of responsiveness from some vendors.
Warning: There are even several products that seem to have been abandoned by the vendor. They are still listed on active pages but the vendor has not responded to me for years. I would make direct contact with the vendor before considering the following products:
EasyView by Easy Street Software
The Report Viewer 4.6 by TheReportViewer.com
Report Viewer 9.0 by CrystalDesk
CRW Reporting Standard by Tatum Consulting
Here are the active vendors:
Crystal Corral by Groff Automation:
In 2003 Kevin Groff needed to automate his reports and decided to try his hand at programming. The result has morphed over the years into the Crystal Corral viewer and the Crystal Delivery scheduler (reviewed with the Desktop Schedulers). The viewer has since been released as freeware, and you can donate to help cover the costs of hosting the files. Kevin has handed this project off to others who maintain the site.
Since this is a volunteer project you shouldn’t expect a team of support technicians waiting to help you if something goes wrong. If you need support there is an internet forum where users share ideas and suggest solutions when they can.
Crystal Corral doesn’t cover all of the basics, but it does cover the core features (the first four features above). It is free.
RptView was originally sold, then it was ad-supported, and now it has now been released as a free application without ads. All that is required is that you register with the vendor. It doesn’t cover all of the basics, but it does cover the core features (the first four features above). It uses the latest runtime so it supports all the latest design features.
If you don’t have CR installed you can view a report by double-clicking an .rpt file. Alternatively, you can launch the full application and set a folder to contain your reports. If the folder has sub-folders, you can select which folder to view. They have recently added a report viewing history and a frequently viewed report list.
RptView is not being actively maintained, but if you do need support, you can hire the vendor to fix any problems you come across. If you want to run RptView using Terminal Services or similar server software you must own a copy of Crystal Reports. Otherwise RptView is free.
CR Dispatch by APB Reports:
CR Dispatch takes a different approach to viewing your reports, since it has a minimal user interface that only appears the first time you run a report. After that it provides a secure way to run a specific RPT with one click. The first time you run the viewer it asks you to select an RPT file. It then creates a config file that stores the report name and (optionally) the credentials used. The next time you run the application it silently runs that same report with the same credentials. This means that you need an instance of the application and config file for each report you want to run. Usually these three files are stored together in one folder, with separate folders for each RPT file.
CR Dispatch covers all of the basics. It also uses the latest runtime so it supports all the latest design features in Crystal Reports.
CR Dispatch costs $5 for an unlimited site license (yes that is not a typo), meaning unlimited installs within one company. APB Reports is based in Norway.
cView by Chelsea Technologies:
Chelsea Technologies is based in Auckland, New Zealand. cView covers all the basics and adds integrated authentication. It allows the selection of a data source at runtime by allowing you to remap the tables of the report to the new data source. And database connection information for all users (including passwords) can be stored in a central folder on a server.
cView can be set as the default RPT viewer in Windows Explorer, and it allows you to drag and drop a report onto cView for viewing. You can open multiple reports simultaneously in separate windows.
cView is $38.
ViewerFX by Origin Software:
ViewerFX covers all the basics and adds support for dynamic/cascading parameters in v11. It can deliver reports to both FTP and Email. It also allows the user to change the selection formula at runtime from within the viewer.
ViewerFX maintains a database of historical instances so you can go back and look at the reports that were previously run. There are several screen shots of the application on their website which give you an idea of how this works.
ViewerFX is $40, and there is a server edition that is compatible with Citrix for $450.
CrystalKiwi Explorer by CrystalKiwi:
CrystalKiwi Explorer covers all the basics and adds the ability to tweak the selection criteria at runtime, as well as the ability to import a parameter LOV at runtime.
It also uses the newest runtime engine for Crystal Reports, and that means that it supports the new protected RPTR files. These allow the user to run the report but provides no way for them to view or modify the report file. Using the latest runtime also means that you can export to the newer XLSX format of Excel.
Although it is a desktop viewer you have the option of storing the passwords in a central database.
CrystalKiwi Explorer is produced by CrystalKiwi which is based in New Zealand. The cost is $44.
Logicity Pro by SaberLogic:
Logicity Pro is a combination of viewer, scheduler and Email delivery tool. You can read more about this tool’s scheduling and Email capabilities in my review of desktop schedulers. Logicity Pro covers all of the basics of a viewer, except for the ability to select the data source at runtime. It can store encrypted passwords for the databases used in the reports and can encrypt exported files if needed. Support is paid by the incident.
Logicity Pro has a built in scheduler. You can either schedule reports to print or send them out as Email attachments. You can also set a report to”auto-refresh” at a set interval, like every 10 minutes.
Logicity Pro costs $125 per user per year, with price reductions as the number of users increases.
Report Runner Viewer by Jeff-Net:
Report Runner Viewer has been around a long time and has a large install base. RRV covers all the basics and adds support for modifying the selection criteria at runtime. It also allows you to optionally set up users and groups manually or via Active Directory, and set restrictions for them. The tool is customizable using INI settings and can even be branded with your company logo. RRV uses the v13 runtime engine which means it can run restricted RPT files (RPTR) and export to XLSX.
One thing that Jeff-Net emphasizes is support. It provides 24 x 7 x 365 support for all of their products.
The normal price for RRV is $50 per user with a required $10 per year per user maintenance charge. There is also a FREE version that is fully functional except that it does not allow INI customization. The free version has no time limit so it is separate from their free 45 day trial which has all features including INI customization.
R-Tag Crystal Viewer by R-Tag:
R-Tag covers all the basics and has been aggressively adding new features. It provides the ability to change selection criteria at runtime and the ability to filter the report data based on the windows user. It also provides dynamic and cascading parameters to any version of CR. One unique feature is that it has a developer SDK, expression editor and a C# editor/compiler. This allows you to write custom code to be used to set report parameters and the record selection formula.
R-Tag has several special parameter options like dependent parameters (one parameter list changes based on your choice in another parameter) and hidden parameters that the user can’t change (like the current user). It also allows you to set up parameter templates so that parameters can be automatically defaulted to last month or last week, minimizing keystroke errors. You can even program the viewer so that when the user runs the report it creates a dynamically named file or sends an Email message based on report data.
R-Tag Report Viewer uses the latest runtime engine, so they can support the newest features of CR like restricted RPT files (RPTR) and exporting to XLSX. R-Tag has even added a data visualization component which allows the users to explore their data with advanced charts.
The cost for the R-Tag viewer is $99 per desktop for the viewer. There is also a free version that doesn’t come with support.
DataLink Viewer by Millet SW:
DataLink Viewer (DLV) has been around for a decade and goes well beyond the basics. And Millet Software has a knack for finding and adding relevant features. Several early DLV features found their way into Crystal Reports.
The product’s name comes from one of these original features. It was the ability to provide an up-to-date parameter pick-list by invisibly running a ‘linked’ report, or several reports, and then showing the results to the user as the parameter pick-list. This gave Crystal users dynamic and cascading parameters two years before CR XI introduced a similar feature. There are also several hidden parameters available, including one that allows you to filter the report automatically, based on the Windows UserID.
DLV also gives the ability to change the value of a formula by clicking the object in the viewer’s preview mode. This lets the user do things like, change a sort without refreshing. This came 2 years before CR 2008 introduced “sort controls” or editable parameter. And since you can use this method to change ANY formula you can do things like toggle the details of a single group between visible and suppressed (in-place drill-down).
And for those who consider their report designs proprietary, DLV introduced the concept of the restricted RPT file, which is now incorporated into Crystal Reports as RPTR files. DLV uses the v13 runtime engine which allows it to support the new RPTR format, as well as export to XLSX. One recent feature added to DLV is the integrated Data Visualizer, allowing the users to explore their data with advanced charts.
DLV does not have a scheduler but the command line option can be run from any tool that can execute a batch file. It also has a built in “auto-refresh” so that a report can refresh itself on a screen every few seconds or minutes.
DLV is $25 with steep discounts for volume purchases.