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Crystal Reports 8.5: A First Look

  • March 29, 2001
  • By Bradley L. Jones
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Before reviewing Crystal Reports 8.5, it is interesting to note that there is a new name in town-Crystal Decisions. For those of you familiar with Seagate Software, they have changed their name. On March 5, Seagate Software officially changed its name to Crystal Decisions. Creg Kerfoot, president and chief executive officer of Crystal Decisions had this to say about the name:

"The name Crystal Decisions gives us a cohesive, instantly-recognizable identity."

He also stated:

"With the world's most popular design tool for high-performance reporting, a globally scalable web information delivery infrastructure, and a sophisticated application development technology for advanced business analysis-Crystal Decisions' market leadership is clear."

A few years ago I was in a discussion where bets were being placed on how long Crystal Reports was going to last as a product. At the time, two of the leading development tools were going through some changes that could adversely affect the growth of the Crystal Reports market. Microsoft had chosen to build its own report writer into Visual Basic. The PowerBuilder market was simply eroding. Expectation was that the large numbers of developers using Crystal Reports on these platforms would be begin migrating to other tools, and thus the future of Crystal Reports seemed in serous jeopardy.

The Visual Basic report writer was weak at best when compared to Crystal Reports. As to the PowerBuilder audience, many have gone to Visual Basic. While Crystal Reports future looked bleak at the time, the future has offered a surprise. Crystal Reports still dominates the third-part tools for reporting. With Version 8.5 now officially released, it looks as if Crystal Decisions is going to continue to hold on to their market. With 7 million licenses shipped, they have a market worth holding on to.

What's the point of Crystal Reports? With Crystal Reports you can easily deliver rich, interactive content in a usable format from virtually any data source. You can publish this content within your applications as well as on the Web. Following is a list of the features for Crystal Reports 8.5:

  • Performs Reporting - Types of reports include sub-reports, conditional, summary, cross-tab, form, drill-down, OLAP, Top N, multiple details, mailing labels
  • Creates Report Exports for connecting to data, selecting fields and records, sorting, formatting, and more
  • Incorporates into Microsoft Excel and Access with Crystal Report Add-ins
  • Contains Analysis Tools for charting, mapping, field highlighting, running totals, Top N, Bottom N, sorting and alerting (These have been enhanced in version 8.5)
  • Supports SQL database server functionality including SelectDistinct, TopN and group-by (this is limited in the Standard Edition)
  • Provides a Report Designer which can rotated text, fractional font size, format editor, add shapes & lines, underlay sections, objects, parameters, formula language, user-defined functions (This has been enhanced in version 8.5)
  • Supports Image Formats for bmp, tiff, jpeg, and png
  • Exports to PDF, XML, DHTML (HTML 4.0), Word, Excel, RTF, Lotus 1-2-3, text, email, Version 7 .RPT format and more (This has been enhanced in version 8.5)
  • Allows hyperlinks

The Developer version also includes the following features:

  • Provides Report Viewers
  • Includes a Report Designer Control that is embeddable
  • Allows free distribution of a runtime with hundreds of properties, methods, and events
  • Includes Ad hoc reporting at Runtime
  • Includes an ASP Server component
  • Supports Microsoft Transaction Server
  • And much more

Crystal Reports 8.5 works with a number of data sources. These include XML, Act!, ASCII, Btrieve, Clipper, Dbase, Microsoft (Access, Excel, Outlook), Paradox, Pervasive.SQL, ODBC (Microsoft Access, Excel, FoxPro, Visual FoxPro, SQL Server), and OLE DB(Microsoft Access, SQL Server). The Professional and Developer Editions also support DB2, Hyperion Essbase, Informix, Lotus Notes, Microsoft (Access, Excel, Exchange), FoxPro, Outlook, SQL Server, Visual FoxPro, Oracle, paradox, Sybase, OLE DB, and ODBC.

Crystal Decisions includes the following list of features with their Professional Edition:

  • Seamless integration with Crystal Enterprise allows rapid deployment of reporting solutions to the web:
    • Publish reports to a central access point on the Web for easy information sharing in a few easy steps
    • The Crystal Management Console (CMC) allows report owners to centrally manage e-reporting by controlling what can or cannot be seen, run, or managed by everybody
    • The new scheduling features allow users to automate delivery of reports, on a regular basis or overnight for example
    • The newly re-designed Crystal Enterprise Web Component Server (WCS) can run on any machine and provides complete support for scripting
  • Report Streaming technology optimizes report-processing performance in both on-demand (real-time) and scheduled reporting scenarios over the Web
  • Enhanced DHTML, ActiveX and Java report viewer provides interactive presentation quality reports via compatible web browsers without downloading any software onto the client machine (zero-client)
  • Complete XML support for the Web lets users access XML data directly or export data straight to XML

Crystal Reports is an example of a product that not only has lots of bells and whistles, but it is also being created to meet a need. As such, it continues to be a product of choice for developers. For more information check out their website at www.crystaldecisions.net







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