New Seagate Product Creates Crystal Clear Reports

Crystal Reports for Windows, Developers Edition, is the first cut of a major new release into the line of reporting tools that helped make Seagate Software's reputation. The new product has all the familiar component parts of Crystal Reports for Windows (CRW), but it has been extended significantly to include larger reporting and data modeling for Internet uses. The product comes on one CD-ROM, and contains more tools than we’ve ever seen before in CRW. These tools include Web integration, full COM integration, data source support for ODBC connections from all the major vendors, and support for CUBE repositories. CRW Developers Edition also provides major extensions for C++, Visual Basic for Applications, and Visual Basic 5 and Visual Basic 6 platforms.

The Test Platform

Believing that many developers now use higher-powered workstations and possibly laptop computers, we tested the product on a Dell Imspiron 7000 notebook computer. Equipped with a Pentium II 400-MHz processor, this laptop has 192 MB of PC-100 memory, 8 MB AGP ATI video, and a 10 GB UDMA hard drive connected to our Cisco switched backbone with a 3Com 3C575-TX PC Card for the network connection at 100 Mbps Ethernet. The back end repository was our standard Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 database system running on a Pentium II 400-MHz server with 320 MB of PC-100 memory, and a 3Com 3C905-TX 100 Mbps switched connection to the Cisco backbone.

We also included Web interfaces from one Microsoft Internet Information Server 3 (IIS) and one Microsoft IIS 4 Web server with ODBC connections into the SQL Server machine. We used these servers to publish the CRW Developers Edition-produced product files in standard HTML 3.2 format.

The installation went smoothly, but it took a bit of time to select the products to install or not install. We liked the depth and breadth of selections the product allowed us to perform. There were so many choices, however, that a Select All button would have been nice to have. As it turns out, we installed the entire product suite -- 285 MB in all. It took 20 minutes to install, but we didn’t think this was too bad considering the amount of files being installed and the amount of configurations that had to be done. The installation completed without incident, and we pressed onward to the testing phase.

Operations

The first part of CRW Developers Edition tested was the standard reporting tools. We attached to the SQL Server via a standard ODBC connection, and used the SQL Designer to create our first report.

The report was quick and easy to create. We further extended the report with custom data manipulation, such as tallied fields and computations of the SQL data. The SQL Server repository held four months of Web server logging data, 100 MB of information. Additionally, the databases held in excess of 65,000 rows of information, presenting a formidable set of tables to use. This let us test the numerous options for extending the report.

In the end, the finished report looked simple and plain, but is easily extendable to make attractive and appealing reports. We also generated the same report -- which was 128 pages long -- into an HTML presentation, which became 1,029 pages of HTML code.

These are the essential parts of the new developers edition, but the most powerful aspects of the product are harder to use, unless you’re a developer. Seemingly a complex product, the developer’s part of the product is focused around the Report Designer Component (RDC). Any programming tools such as Visual Basic or C++ that is fully COM compliant will support the RDC functions.

RDC is basically a superset of reporting that extends any report layout, exporting data to other formats and other data sources such as Excel or Access. You can create and extend sections of the report, define special computations on cells of data, or interlink other data sources and reports to form complex reports.

This edition of Crystal Reports has vestiges of its past, yet provides a significant boost to data mining without the huge overhead of an expensive programmer. The product was a joy to use, a joy to program, and one of the easiest editions of CRW yet to come to market. The data we manipulated was brought to focus quicker, with more meaning, and with a better sense of purpose. After all, that’s what data reporting is all about.

[Infobox:]

Seagate Crystal Reports 8, Developers Edition

Seagate Software
840 Cambie St., Vancouver, BC, Canada
(604) 681-3435

Price:

$495 for single user, full product. Multiuser license packs available with subscription updates

Pros/Cons:

+ Very easy to set up.

+ Quickly extends standard reporting to more useful formats.

+ Better programming hooks allowing enhanced reporting.

+ Better depth of support for more data sources.

- May require some retraining for inexperienced programmers.

- Would like to see estimates of the size of pending reports, such as the 1,029 page HTML sample report, before the report generation process begins.