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.
In the next few months I expect to spend more time road testing SSRS and writing about the differences. But as a starting point you can look at this excellent list of Crystal features missing in SSRS. It was created by one of the CR to SSRS conversion vendors which is why it is both knowledgeable and objective, probably more objective than even I could be.