Archive for January, 2016
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 many users never see. These are third party products that allow your users to 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 includes 9 products, including CR Server, itself:
Crystal Reports Server – a traditional Web portal
Report Runner Web Portal – a traditional Web portal
CSS Portal with CRD – a traditional Web portal
Visual Access Report Server – a traditional Web portal
Ripplestone– a traditional Web portal
RVweb – a traditional Web portal
rePORTAL – a traditional Web portal
RV for Windows Pro – a server-based viewer
Report Launch – a bridge between BO server products and server based applications
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 (PDF) that shows some of the specifics for comparison, including prices. This year there are new lines that show how the product works with mobile devices. If you have any feedback to share on these tools I would be happy to hear from you.
I haven’t mentioned SAP’s “Idea Place” in a couple of years. This is a site where you can suggest product features or improvements. Once an idea is submitted, people can vote on them and add comments. Once an idea has 20 votes SAP considers that feature and then responds (eventually). SAP just recently responded to Idea #D1146, creating an XML-based file format as an alternative to the proprietary RPT format. This was submitted five years ago and SAP responded in late December. The response is that they will NOT be implementing this feature.
On a positive note, I wrote about some of the new features being planned for CR 2016. Two of them (vertical alignment and conditional formatting for lines/boxes) are in the top 10 “most votes” ideas, so maybe SAP does listen.
I was helping a customer troubleshoot a misbehaving report. He could add criteria to the report, but when he removed the original criteria from the selection formula the it was still applied. So I looked at the SQL that CR was generating and found that it was not being updated based his our changes. After a few more tries my customer asked me about an unfamiliar button below the “SHOW SQL QUERY” window. Only then did I noticed the extra button that said RESET. I had not seen that button in about 10 years, but I now knew the problem with this report.
This report was originally created in an early version of Crystal, probably v8.x. In these early versions you were allowed to tweak the FROM and WHERE clauses in the automatically generated SQL. This is no longer allowed because now we can create SQL Commands. Back then, when you modified the SQL it became ‘locked’ and Crystal would no longer update it. If you added more selection criteria the new criteria would not be incorporated into the SQL. Instead it would be applied after the data came back from the database. When you wanted to revert to automatically generated SQL you would hit the RESET button.
In current versions of CR the RESET button is not needed so it doesn’t normally appear. But it will appear automatically if you open an old report that has locked SQL. This allows you to eliminate the use of an obsolete feature. So I checked the SQL to see if the original tweaks were still essential. There were no UNION queries, subqueries or filters built into outer joins. So I reset the SQL and the RESET button disappeared. After that the report behaved like a normal report.
After reviewing a few more BI products, I have decided to focus my comparison of Crystal alternatives on true reporting tools rather than the broader category of BI tools. My guiding question is still this:
If I were to switch from Crystal Reports to another product, what features would I gain and what features would I lose?
I found that several of the leading BI tools provide primarily high level summary and/or visualization. They don’t have the ability to create the day-to-day operational forms (invoices, purchase orders, custom reports). I create these every day in Crystal Reports. So I have dropped some of the tentative columns in the original grid and replaced them with two more true reporting tools, Jasper Reports and Cognos Impromptu.
The two new columns have been started but are not completed yet. I was able to fill in the rows that describe each tool’s basic approach, but I don’t know all of the detailed features that each supports. If anyone has a working knowledge of these tools and is willing to fill in some of the feature rows, that would be a great help.