Archive for the 'Products' Category
I have just updated my comparison of server-based scheduling tools for 2019. These tools are similar to the desktop-based scheduling tools I write about every March, but these are designed to be run on server. This allows multiple people to schedule reports for automated delivery by Email, FTP or network folder.
There are 11 products on the list this year and a few feature updates and price changes. The blog page provides a brief overview of each product. It also has a link to the feature matrix that compares roughly 70 features of these tools. There is even a feature glossary that defines all the terms. So if you need a short course in automating Crystal Reports delivery, this is a pretty good place to start.
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 are 11 active products in the list this year. 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.
I have several customers that use the donor tracking software Raiser’s Edge(RE) and pull data out of it with Crystal Reports. To run CR against RE data usually involves exporting the data to an MS Access (MDB) file and then reading that MDB with Crystal. The challenge is that Microsoft doesn’t really support the classic MDB format anymore.
This week I heard from several RE users that a recent Windows update has broken the process. They go to run the report and get an error that the file format is in an “unrecognizable database format”.
One customer was able to resolve the problem by changing the export from “Blackbaud Report Writer Database (MDB)” to “MS Access 2000 Database” but there is some concern about making this change. Some users have said that these exports work fine when you run a report from Crystal, but that these reports will not always run fine from within the RE application menu. Others have had success running reports from these exports in both environments. I haven’t found the specific difference but I suspect that it may have to do with the version of the ODBC driver being used.
I will post more information as it comes in.
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 also web delivery of Crystal Reports. These third party products allow your users to run and 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 features 10 products:
Crystal Reports Server – a traditional Web portal
Report Runner Web Portal – a traditional Web portal
IntelliFront BI – a traditional Web portal
Ripplestone – a traditional Web portal
rePORTAL CR – a traditional Web portal
ReCrystallize Server – a traditional Web portal
ReCrystallize Pro – a launch page generator for the web
Bezlio – a SaaS Web viewer
Report Launch – a bridge between BO server products and server based applications
RapidStack – Web Portal service built around Business Objects Enterprise
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 (xls) 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 from you.
QODBC by FlexQuarters is an ODBC driver. It reads the data from the QB database in real time. It works, but I have found that is often slow depending on the tables used. The price ranges from $149 for a single user to $499 for a server license. I have written about QODBC before.
QODBC for QB online by FlexQuarters is similar to the ODBC driver above, but it allows you to connect to QB Online data. It is priced by month, $14.95 for a single user.
QuickBooks Online ODBC Driver by CData. Connects directly to QB Online data. This driver costs $299 per year, which covers a single workstation.
QQube by Clearify extracts a “data warehouse” copy of the QB data. You run your reports against the extracted data which is organized into logical components. This approach makes for fast running reports, but the data is only as up to date as the last extract. The price ranges from $450 for a single user to $1,595 for a server that supports up to 10 concurrent users. QQube does not currently support QB Online data.
FinJinni by GypsiBI extracts either a local or cloud “data warehouse”. Again this is fast but the data is only as up to date as the last extract. You run your reports against the extracted data which can include both desktop and online QB data. The price starts at $999 for a single user and up to 5 companies. Another $500 will expand to either 10 companies or 6 users.
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) Generate bar codes without having to install any fonts
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, which can now generate 3 types of charts, crop images and process text through Google’s “sentiment analysis” engine.
If you need help deploying one of these functions in a project let me know.
Ido Millet at Millet Software has recently added some unique new functions to the Cut Light UFL. Cut Light now adds 130 new formula functions to Crystal Reports. Here are the ones most recently added.
1) Creating charts from formulas.
This includes advanced gauges, sparkline charts (bar and line) and bullet charts. These charts are generated in real time by a formula function. The functions do not rely on Crystal’s integrated chart engine. They are generated as image files which are automatically read into the report. These charts are simple and have no customizable features. There is also no drill-down capability. But these charts can be generated on any series of numbers, including numbers that come from print time variables or even shared variables . Ido has posted some image examples: And you can read the details in the user manual.
2) Image cropping.
Allows you to read an external image file and crop it before displaying it in the report. This can be used with the chart images above and also with existing Cut Light functions that allow you to read the image properties and resize an image. Here is the relevant section of the Cut Light user manual:
3) Google sentiment analysis.
This allows a formula to process a block of text through Google’s “sentiment analysis” engine. The result will be 2 numbers which represent the score (positive, negative or neutral) and the “emotional magnitude”. This can be used to evaluate any comments, Email messages or product reviews you have in your database. It does require that you have an ID to use the Google API, but there is no charge for the first 5,000 calls per month. You can read more details in the user manual.
You use Crystal Reports to create, change and run reports. But what if you have users who just need to refresh/view/print/export? Do they need copies of Crystal Reports? Do you need to configure an expensive web server?
The most cost effective method for letting a user run reports is to install a third-party client-based viewer. They are offered by nine different vendors. Don’t get sidetracked by the official SAP “viewer” because that tool won’t refresh reports. Every viewer in my list allows you to refresh reports.
Every September I update the features of these viewers. The comparison page provides a brief introduction to each product including what sets it apart. There is also a detailed feature matrix (xls) that shows some of the specifics for comparison, like prices. I have even included a glossary of features in case you aren’t familiar with the terminology.
There are 10 active products in this year’s review and 4 “ghost” products that are mentioned as warnings. A ghost product has a web site but it hasn’t changed in years and no one responds to requests for information.
The active vendors are:
Crystal Corral by Groff Automation
rptView by Pursuit Technology
CR Dispatch by APB Reports
cView by Chelsea Technologies
ViewerFX by Origin Software
CrystalKiwi Viewer by CrystalKiwi
Logicity Pro by SaberLogic
Report Runner Viewer by Jeff-Net
RTag Report Viewer by RTag
DataLink Viewer by Millet SW
If you have feedback to provide on any of these products, I would love to know what you think.
I don’t usually rush to apply service packs (i.e. ‘if it ain’t broke…’). Usually the fixed items don’t apply to what I do. So when SAP notified me about SP3 for CR 2016 I was ready to ignore it for a while. But I read through the list of fixes anyway, just in case, and the second to last item was something useful. It corrects a scrolling bug in the formula editor so we can now use the mouse wheel to scroll up and down in long formulas. I decided to do the update right away since I write lots of long formulas.
But the update was a hassle. It starts with 5 minutes of extracting files and then immediately pops up a “Fatal” error:
“Fatal Error: At least one port in the range 4520-4539 must be opened for the installation to proceed. …”
So why would a service pack for a locally installed app require access to ports? After a few searches I found that this is a red herring error message. It also occurs on some full Crystal Reports installs. The keys to getting past this error on a full install are to:
1) Run the setup from the Root folder
2) Use “Run as an administrator”.
But the service pack is a self extracting compressed exe. Placing the exe in C:\ and running it as administrator didn’t solve the problem for me. What worked for me in both Win 10 and Win 8.1 was to:
1) Use an Unzip utility (e.g. 7zip) to extract the compressed files/folders into a new folder.
2) Put this new folder in C:\.
3) Run the Setup.exe in this folder as an administrator.
Even then there was another snag. The install couldn’t finish because of a “suppressed reboot”:
“A reboot request was suppressed on the local machine.
Reboot the machine in order to proceed with the installation”
But it wasn’t clear how to do this. My only options were “retry” and “cancel”. So I cancelled, did a manual reboot and then ran the setup.exe a second time. That allowed the SP to install and now I can scroll through my formulas. It was just much more work than I expected.
One of my readers just pointed out their own blog post about installing CR 2016 and having the same exact issues. Had I seen that post when writing this one my post would have been a link to his.
I do this chart each year based on my newsletter subscribers. It shows the version of Crystal Reports that they were using when they signed up for the newsletter. Over time, it shows which versions have staying power and how quickly new versions take hold. I have included numbers for 2018, even though the year is only about two thirds over. Those numbers will shift a bit in next year’s chart when 2018 is complete.
The chart shows that over 25% of my 2018 subscribers are still using Crystal Reports XI (circa 2005) which is version 11.x. Last year I was concerned that some of these users might really be on CR 2011 (version 14.o) since those do get confused. But when I Emailed some of those people they all said that they were using the old XI version. For some of them, upgrading past Crystal Reports XI would be a major undertaking, because all the newer versions are limited to the .NET runtime. Customers that have built an application around the older runtime engine would have to rebuild the Crystal components of that app in order to upgrade to a later version of CR.