Crystal Clear Persuasion: Microsoft and Seagate Target New Developers

For almost a decade, Visual Basic developers have had access to CrystalReports, a data reporting tool from Seagate Software Inc. (www.seagatesoftware.com). Now, if Web developers -- or those fromother environments -- buy into Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET architecture,they will have access to this tool as well. Seagate and Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com)will bundle Seagate's Crystal Reports within Redmond's upcoming Visual Studio.NET toolset.

Crystal Reports, a popular report-building tool, has been included withVisual Basic since 1993. Seagate reports that more than 4 million licenses havebeen shipped to date.

The version that will result from this agreement, Crystal Reports forVisual Studio .NET, is designed to provide developers data visualization andanalysis capabilities for Web applications. Crystal Reports will support variousVisual Studio .NET features, including Web services, Web forms, and Windowsforms. Other new features include integration with all of the languagessupported in Visual Studio, including Visual Basic, C#, and C++. The productalso includes XML support for sharing reports and information over the Web.

For the first time, Crystal Reports will be incorporated directly intoMicrosoft's development environment -- not distributed on a separate CD. In itscurrent form, Crystal Reports in Visual Studio 6 is one of many CDs included inthe box, so developers had to purposefully install a separate CD to installCrystal Reports. In Visual Studio .NET, Crystal Reports will be included on thedefault install CD, and there will be a more integrated designer built on theMicrosoft .NET platform.

"With Visual Studio 6, developers can use Crystal Reports, but itspawns a separate executable," says Dave Mendlen, lead product manager forVisual Studio at Microsoft. With Crystal Reports integrated into Visual Studio,developers will be able to "build Web reports in the same way they buildWindows applications through rapid application development," Mendlen says."The report looks and feels like a Windows form."

Additionally, as Microsoft expands support for its Active Server Pages+(ASP+) Web page compiler, Web-based report development will look the same asWindows-based reports. "Developers will build Web applications and Webreports in exactly the same way," Mendlen says. The planned support of Webservices in Microsoft development environments will fit this announcement, headds. "Seagate has extended the notion of a report -- you can expose areport as a Web service."

Some analysts see this agreement as a coup for Seagate Software, whichwill extend its well-regarded Crystal Reports to a new generation ofdevelopers. "The bundling of Crystal Reports with Visual Studio .NET is amajor accomplishment for Seagate Software," says Mike Schiff, director ofdata warehousing strategies at Current Analysis Inc. (www.currentanalysis.com).He predicts the bundling agreement "will quite likely serve as a catalystfor its quick adoption by the development community, thus sustaining itsalready ubiquitous presence."

Seagate sees this promise, as well. "We've penetrated the desktopreporting market," says Tim Lang, director of strategic alliances atSeagate Software. ".NET technology will enable us to become the standardin enterprise reporting." About 10 Seagate developers are working onsitein Redmond to roll out this technology, Lang reports.

The product bundling also opens Crystal Reports to developers outside theVisual Basic world. "Our market is not just going to be Crystal Reportswith Visual Basic, or C++," Lang says. "We're going to be able toleverage the more than 20 languages using Visual Studio .NET's common languageruntime."

A Microsoft executive says this agreement enables "21st centuryreport building." He calls Seagate a "poster child for what you cando with the .NET framework, to provide a seamless experience fordevelopers."

A beta version of the toolkit will be shipping later this year, Mendlensays. Work is still under way to incorporate capabilities around unicode,bidirectional code, and COM+. In the meantime, Visual Studio 6 developers canintegrate Crystal Reports 8, Developer Edition, which was launched in February.Files generated from version 8 can be converted to Crystal Reports for VisualStudio .NET.