Crystal Reports 7.0, the latest release of Seagate Software's widely used and highly acclaimed report writer, provides a sophisticated graphical report designer that you can use with many databases. Crystal Reports 7.0 is compatible with prior Crystal Reports releases. It comes with several new features including server-side processing, which can reduce client processing requirements; an ActiveX report designer that lets you design reports within Visual Basic (VB); and the ability to directly enter SQL expressions and execute stored procedures for higher-performance reporting.
Seagate offers Crystal Reports 7.0 in Standard and Professional Editions for 16- and 32-bit configurations. If you need access to Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) data sources, invest in the Professional Edition. The Standard Edition supports ODBC, but only for local databases such as Microsoft Access. In addition to enhanced ODBC support, the Professional Edition includes features not available in the Standard Edition such as the Crystal Web Report Server, Crystal Report Engine Automation Server, Crystal Report Engine Object Library, Crystal Query Designer, and the Crystal SQL Designer. In this review, I focus on the 32-bit Professional Edition of Crystal Reports 7.0.
Crystal Reports extracts data from many desktop databases including ACT! 2.0 and ACT! 3.0, Clipper, Btrieve, dBase, FoxPro 2.6, Microsoft Access, Paradox 3.5, and Paradox 4.5. It also supports other network data sources such as Exchange Server, Informix, DB/2, Systems Management Server (SMS), Oracle, and Sybase.
You can use Crystal Reports 7.0 to produce more than 10 types of reports, including subreports, multiple-section reports, form-style reports, form letters, mailing labels, mail-merge documents, and enhanced cross-tab reports. Crystal Reports' 15 wizards can help you generate stock reports by prompting you to select a data source and answer questions about how you want the data organized and the report to appear.
Crystal Reports 7.0 lets you integrate graphs and graphical images into your reports. You can insert line and box drawings and include graphical images in .jpeg, .bmp, .tiff, .pcx, and .tga file formats. Crystal Reports can retrieve pictures stored as binary large objects (BLOBs) and print them in the report if they're in one of the previously mentioned binary formats. Crystal Reports also includes 11 chart types and 47 chart templates including stacked bar graphs, line graphs, and pie charts.
If you work in an IS environment in which users contact you to create and run reports for them, you'll appreciate Crystal Reports' distribution options. Crystal Reports 7.0 supports distribution through Microsoft Mail and Exchange Server and can export reports in different formats including text, WordPerfect, Word, Lotus 1-2-3, Excel, and Rich Text Format (RTF). Also, the Professional Edition lets you export reports to an ODBC data source or the Web.
Seagate introduced Web reporting features in Crystal Reports 6.0. Unlike products that generate static reports that you publish in HTML format, Crystal Reports lets you publish reports with dynamic data that's refreshed as users execute the report via the Web. When you run reports on the Web, Crystal Reports displays one page of data at a time, avoiding long transmission delays for large reports. Users can then page through reports online. Crystal Reports includes ActiveX and Java Smart Viewers, which let users see report output in native Crystal Reports formats, so you don't have to convert the report to HTML frames before you display the output.
Putting Crystal Reports Through Its Paces
Using Crystal Reports to create basic reports is simple. But to create complex reports such as multisection reports, you'll need to spend some time learning the product's capabilities. In addition to mapping database fields to the report, you can create reports that perform computations on fields and that sort data and compute totals based on section breaks.
Crystal Reports is two products in one. You use the GUI-based Crystal Reports Designer to create the report's appearance. The Crystal Reports Engine retrieves data and builds a report based on the report definition you create with the designer.
To test the software, I created an income statement report using sample data in a SQL Server database. After creating the SQL statement to retrieve the data, I laid out the report's sections. Then I mapped the appropriate SQL fields to the report, grouped the data, and added a header to my report. Unlike some other report writers, Crystal Reports doesn't dynamically show the report data in the design environment. You use the design environment only to construct the report's layout. However, Crystal Reports' Preview tab lets you quickly view the report populated with data from the target data source. Screen 1 shows my sample income statement as it appears in the Crystal Reports Preview window.
I used the Report Designer to save the report definition I created. Then I created a project in VB 5.0. After adding the Crystal Reports Object Linking and Embedding custom control (OCX) to my project, I added a Crystal Reports object to my form. Then I changed the object's properties to run the report I created using the Report Designer, and I added a command button and some VB code to activate the report. As expected, the output looked like the output from the Crystal Reports design environment.
Crystal Reports Professional Edition is easy to use and feature-rich. The manual includes examples of each feature. Also, Crystal Reports 7.0's license lets you distribute the Crystal Reports Engine, the Crystal Web Report Server components, and Smart Viewers royalty-free$#151;a big plus for developers who want to integrate Crystal Reports into their applications.
|Crystal Reports 7.0|
| Contact: Seagate Software * 604-681-3435 or 800-877-2340 |
Price: $349 (Professional Edition)
System Requirements: 16MB of RAM (32MB suggested); maximum of 164MB of hard disk space (depending on installation)