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 happily ignore SSRS, without feeling like I am missing out. But three recent events have me paying more attention to SSRS:
1) Someone recently asked me if I had a more up to date comparison of Crystal and SSRS. The comparisons I link to are from 2005 so I am looking for more current information.
2) In the past month I have been contacted by 2 RPT conversion vendors who want me to mention their services. These vendors have developed software that will convert RPT files to SSRS RDL files (with varying degrees of success).
3) I learned from one of these vendors that SSRS has a free, stand-alone “Report Builder” that allows you to create and run RDL-based reports. You don’t need to install SQL Server or create a .NET application. All you need to install it is the (free) .NET framework (3.5).
From my quick experiment with the Report Builder I see that SSRS has a ways to go before I start my next transition. But now I can judge for myself the differences between Crystal and SSRS. Here is my opinion in a nutshell:
SSRS provides a rich development environment for programmers but it has a limited feature set for report developers. The GUI is geared toward programmers. It is currently free or reasonable to deploy.
Crystal has a rich reporting feature set and a GUI designed for report builders. It also has a mature ecosystem with lots of 3rd party products geared toward end users. But it has an SDK that developers hate, coupled with expensive and proprietary web deployment options.
I think this explains why many developers and programmers hate Crystal with a passion at the same time that Crystal maintains its position as the market leader.
Update – Since this post I have done a more complete comparison that includes several other tools as well.