Crystal Reports Viewers compared

Wednesday 15 September 2010 @ 8:31 am

You might want to read the more recent version of this article.

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 about half of the viewer programs out there, including all of the ones I list in my ‘favorites’ list. 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 (PDF) 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.
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.

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 was written in March.

One note on versions compatibility. Not all tools use the CR v12 engine which can display the very newest features (calculated cross-tab columns, optional parameters, etc). But even the tools that use the v11 engine can still run v12 reports. If you aren’t using any of the newest v12 features the report will be the same in all of these tools. But if you are using any of the new v12 features the report will still run fine, but the new features will not be displayed in the report. If you rely on the new features you should use a tool that uses the v12 engine, which is noted in the matrix.

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 they 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 and you want to check that before you purchase.

I have also not tried to evaluate ‘ease of use’ because that is subjective. I recommend that you use this review to narrow your search to 2 or 3 tools. Then talk to the vendors, and then use the free trial (they all have one) before making a decision. If you have already tried one of these products, or are currently using one, I would love to ask you a few questions, on or off the record.

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). Kevin has generously released his tools as freeware, and accepts donations to help cover the costs of hosting the files. Kevin has also decided to release his code as an open source project and would love to have some volunteers to help maintain the project.

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 Kevin and some users share ideas and suggest solutions when they can.

You will find that although it is free, it covers all the basics except for being able to select the data source at runtime.

cView by Chelsea Technologies:
Chelsea Technologies is based in Auckland, New Zealand and this is the only product in this list that is based outside the USA. 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 sold in a 5 user pack for $196.

ViewerFX by Origin Software:
ViewerFX is one of the youngest tools in the bunch. It 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 thereis a server edition that is compatible with Citrix for $450.

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 scheduler. It is available for free (without support) as Logicity. The paid version is called Logicity Pro and includes some added features and support. Both cover all the basics of a viewer, except for the ability to select the data source at runtime. Neither provides integrated authentication, but they do store encrypted passwords for the databases used in the reports.

Logicity and Logicity Pro both have built in schedulers. 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 $45.

Easy View by Easy Street SW:
Easy View 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 scheduler. As a viewer it covers all the basics. As an Email tool it adds a few unique features like delivery to cell phone text messaging (SMS). It can deliver to multiple destinations at the same time, and can even put the file in one destination while sending an Email notification to another. It lets you maintain Email lists (and ‘do not mail’ lists) and comes in several foreign language editions.

Using the built in scheduler you can schedule reports to print or to go out as Email attachments. You can also set a report to”auto-refresh” at a set interval, like every 10 minutes.

Easy View costs $39.

DataLink Viewer by Millet SW:
DataLink Viewer (DLV) is the oldest viewer in the list. That may explain why the feature list goes so far beyond the basics. And Millet Software has a knack for finding and adding relevant features. DLV features often find their way into later versions of Crystal Reports.

The product’s name comes from one of the 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.

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”.  And since you can change ANY formula you can use this feature to do other 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 is the only tool I know that allows you to deploy a report so that anyone can run the report, but no one can open the RPT file in CR. This is done by deploying an encrypted version of the RPT called an RPZ. An RPZ file is restricted so it cannot be opened in Crystal Reports, exported to RPT format or exported to Report Definition format. This keeps your proprietary design secure. SAP has added a similar feature to CR 2010 for Visual Studio, and it may be in the next version of CR.

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.









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