Review: Crystal Reports 9.0 Report writer

Report writing has to be one of the least glamorous technologies around, but it is absolutely critical as most companies rely on reports to make important business decisions. Crystal Decisions’ Crystal Reports software ranks among the best in its field.

The latest version 9.0 is an evolutionary but nevertheless important release. It lets you deliver rich, interactive content from virtually any XML, Olap or relational data source. Report design capabilities produce interactive documents that you can publish in a variety of formats including DHTML, RTF, Microsoft Excel, PDF and XML for greater flexibility.

Bundled in with this release is a copy of Crystal Enterprise for publishing your reports on the Web. The product integrates smoothly with Crystal Reports and not only delivers information in real time with report streaming technology, but also automatically delivers reports with a new scheduling tool.

The Report Alerts feature sends out custom messages when the data in a report meets a certain criteria, such as a rise in sales numbers. These capabilities work within most applications, giving Crystal Reports true component functionality and letting developers incorporate reporting features into their Web and Windows applications.

Installation felt relatively protracted. In our case, the install program couldn’t locate a whole swathe of essential files, even though they were present on the CD-ROM. Skipping several dozen of these ‘missing’ files allowed us to complete the install and run the program.

Crystal Reports’ interface (see here) is reassuringly familiar and is closely based on the Office 2000 pattern. The learning curve is gentle, too -- the first time you use the program you’re prompted to run a Report Wizard. There are four wizards to choose from: Standard, Cross-Tab, Mail Label and Olap. You then have to specify which data you want to report on. You’ll also need to create a new data connection but this isn’t confined to standard data types -- you can delve into NT Event logs, Outlook data files, web log files and Act data files.

With the addition of full Java support, Crystal Reports now lets developers integrate reports into Java, .Net and Component Object Model applications. Using a new report application server, programmers can also integrate reports into company Web applications.

A neat touch: developers can now reuse report components in other reports. They can also integrate ‘report parts’ (such as data, tables or charts) into workflow applications accessible through a portal, wireless device or Office document. It also supports Office XP Smart Tags, permitting instant sharing, viewing and refreshing from within the Office document.

Crystal Reports 9.0
4 stars
Crystal Reports 9.0 is worth the upgrade. It’s available in several flavours from the Standard edition right up to the heavy-duty Advanced edition. If your company’s data problems are ‘too much’ rather than ‘too little’, then this is the best way of drilling down into it and extracting the precise data you need to run your business.
Price: Standard $450; Professional $1084; Developer $1295; Advanced $4252
Crystal Decisions IMG
Phone: (02) 9955 4088
URL: http://asiapac.crystaldecisions.com

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