Welcome!

Microsoft Cloud Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Mihai Corbuleac, Pat Romanski, David Bermingham

Related Topics: Microsoft Cloud

Microsoft Cloud: Article

Crystal Reports XI & How It Has Changed

New Life for an Old Friend

Microsoft's bundling of Crystal Reports dates to Visual Basic 3 and since then many developers have come to rely on it to build reporting solutions. Early on some developers found the programming API too complicated and there were the typical deployment problems that happen with any product that has many versions and upgrades. There have been many improvements over the years to address developer concerns, but when Business Objects acquired Crystal Decisions a little over a year ago Crystal Reports was revitalized. Developers will see these benefits in Crystal Reports XI and the upcoming release of Visual Studio 2005 (still in beta).

I'm going to focus on how Crystal Reports XI affects developers and how it can improve reporting applications. The features that I feel are most important to .NET developers are web reporting, dynamic cascading prompting, faster data connectivity, dynamic image location, easier deployment and improved export functionality.

The overarching change in the product is that tasks that used to take a lot of coding are now built in. For example, the following line of code is all you need to add a report to an ASP.NET page and have the user preview it:

<CR:CrystalReportViewer id="CrystalReportViewer1" runat="server" Width="350px" Height="50px"
ReportSource='<%# "c:\inetpub\wwwroot\ SampleReport.rpt" %>'/>

Adding reports to your application used to mean writing a lot of integration code. The sample above indicates how much easier it is to work with reports.

Web-based Reporting
Crystal Reports has been around for over a decade, and has a reputation for being a Windows reporting tool. But that's changing.

By improving the Web reporting features, integrating reports in an Internet application becomes trouble-free and a seamless user experience. Parameters are now supported on the URL that customize Web Service reports for the user. Business Objects wants you to choose Crystal Reports for reporting services and, as an incentive, are releasing a product called Crystal Reports Server for $7,500. It includes five concurrent access licenses (CALS) and free tech-support and maintenance for a year. Business Objects has drastically cut the price on previous Crystal enterprise offerings and made it practical for small to mid-sized businesses. As an added bonus, Web Services reports are 100%-compatible with ASP.NET Forms Authentication and don't require redundant logins. Users can access your Web Service reports and never know they're on a different server. Not all .NET reporting services support this level of integration.

Current Crystal Reports .NET Web applications mean writing additional code for printing from the browser. With Crystal Reports XI (and the future VS 2005), there's a Print button on the web toolbar. Professional-looking reports are sent to the client-side printer with no coding. What a relief!

There's also a new ActiveX viewer that highlights objects individually or in groups and then copies and pastes them into HTML or Rich Text format in applications such as Word, Excel and Outlook.

New Reporting Features
One major feature that developers have to look forward to is dynamic cascading prompts. Past versions of Crystal Reports supported parameters based on a static list embedded in each report, but you couldn't have a value in a pick list constrain the values shown in subsequent pick lists. You had to build this feature with custom forms. With dynamic cascading prompts you can now show a pick list based off of live data from your database without writing any code. You can also link prompts together so that a change in one prompt affects the other prompts. In the Crystal Reports Server edition, values in a pick list can incorporate view-time security so each end user can see a customized pick list based on his own security level. Pick lists can be shared in the BusinessObjects Enterprise XI framework to improve performance and reduce database access further. They can also be scheduled so users aren't querying a large dataset for lists of values that rarely change.

The following figure shows how to create a City prompt. The dialog box lets you make the prompt static or dynamic. It also shows you how it's linked to the two previous Country and Region prompts.

How many times have you tried to print dynamic images in your report but didn't want to save the binary data to your database?

The alternative is writing a lot of code to load the images dynamically into a DataSet object and pass it to the report. Crystal Reports XI lets you print images using a text link rather than embedding the binary data in the report or dataset. Dynamic image locations give you the ability to reference an image's location and display it in the report. The image can be on a local drive, network drive or referenced via a URL address. Plus the location is formula-based so you can use any built-in functions to derive the location string.

For example, the following formula uses a database field to display an image:

"C:\Program Files\Demo\" + {Product.Graphic Image Location}

This is a huge improvement that eliminates code in your .NET application and improves performance.

Crystal Reports for .NET made it easy to build reports from datasets and XML with just a couple of lines of code. But Business Objects, the new owner, completely rewrote its ADO.NET libraries for a huge performance increase. Visual Studio 2005 benefits because the new DLLs are included in VS 2005. There's also improved Microsoft Exchange 2000/2003 support. You can generate reports using multiple Exchange data sources such as Calendar, Journal, Tasks, Inbox, Address Book and Contact.

Users often want to take report data and manipulate it with the tools they're already familiar with. Crystal Reports supports exporting reports to PDF and the common Microsoft Office formats (Excel, Word, RTF, CSV). When exporting to Word with the RTF format, a couple of things are needed. First is an accurate report and second is easy editing.

A new export format has been introduced to cover cases where editability is most important (i.e., forms-based reporting). It doesn't use text boxes so it's easy for Word users to edit the exported document. By providing the most export options for Microsoft Office and better data connectivity to Microsoft Exchange, Crystal Reports gives you a tighter level of integration with Microsoft products than any other reporting tool available.

A feature that every developer will love is simplified deployment. There is only one merge module to deploy. In that module are properties that customize what libraries get deployed. No more trying to figure out what each merge module does and whether it's necessary or not. Crystal Reports also supports side-by-side deployment so DLL conflicts are a thing of the past. Developers can breathe another sigh of relief.

A question developers ask is how buying Crystal Reports affects their current application. Well, when you buy Crystal Reports and install it on your development computer, it recognizes if you have Visual Studio .NET installed and upgrades your .NET reporting libraries to the latest version. You get rid of the older DLLs and replace them with the new ones. Second, the integrated report designer is an improvement over the one that ships with .NET. Third, your .NET applications now share the same reporting engine as Crystal Reports XI and the reports are fully compatible with each other.

Choosing Which Version To Use
With the release of Crystal Reports XI there are significant changes in editions and packaging. The familiar Crystal Reports Standard and Professional editions offer a standalone report designer. The Developer edition has been expanded to include all the APIs required for embedding reporting into thick client applications and comes with new more flexible licensing terms for distributing reports over the Web. But, perhaps, one of the most exciting changes is the introduction of Crystal Reports Server, which includes report management, scheduling and Web distribution capabilities, as well as all of the APIs needed to integrate these capabilities into your applications. Meaning that as a developer, you no longer have to spend time building your own security and scheduling applications. Both the Professional and Developer editions come with a five named-user license for Crystal Reports Server that can be used in production, giving you the opportunity to create a reporting solution for a small number of users and decide whether to upgrade at a future date.

Overall, I think that Crystal Reports XI and the upcoming release of Visual Studio 2005 is a great benefit to .NET developers. Reports are much easier to create and require less code to run in an application.

More Stories By Brian Bischof

Brian Bischof, CPA, MCSD, is the author of the best-selling book Crystal Reports .NET Programming. You can download sample chapters and find out more information at his Web site www.CrystalReportsBook.com.

Comments (4) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
hakim jamali 01/09/08 04:07:49 AM EST

this article is informative accept one point which i noticed, that exporting to word is not availble in crXI. Only RTF editable export is available which loose the the basic formatting like table.

Rich 08/21/07 08:07:03 AM EDT

You mentioned in the article a figure showing dynamic cascading prompts, yet there is no figure??

chuck 04/23/05 09:18:20 PM EDT

I've used CR since VB 4. I've given up on it after using other reporting products. CR's object model for reports is way to convulted. Creating reports takes a long time. The worse part is changing datasources at run time (devlp to prod). Definitely look elsewhere if your doing Win forms, you have to install 4 merge modules. Other vendors have 1 dll. View the reports on the web is troublesome the dhtml they use is not that well formed.

Joel White 04/15/05 04:14:55 PM EDT

I've been using Crystal Reports since it was bundled with Visual basic. I recently purchased version XI and am somewhat dissapointed in the product (Mainly it's documentation). The documentation / help files are incomplete and are missing help about some export functions. And the documentation it does have is almost pointless to read, since it does not give a good description of the function and it's values.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The IoTs will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and share the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the development proc...
SYS-CON Events announced today BZ Media LLC has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. BZ Media LLC is a high-tech media company that produces technical conferences and expositions, and publishes a magazine, newsletters and websites in the software development, SharePoint, mobile development and Commercial Drone markets.
SYS-CON Events announced today that ContentMX, the marketing technology and services company with a singular mission to increase engagement and drive more conversations for enterprise, channel and SMB technology marketers, has been named “Sponsor & Exhibitor Lounge Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. “CloudExpo is a great opportunity to start a conversation with new prospects, but what happens after the...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, Inc., the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Alert Logic, Inc., provides Security-as-a-Service for on-premises, cloud, and hybrid infrastructures, delivering deep security insight and continuous protection for customers at a lower cost than traditional security solutions. Ful...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. MangoApps provides modern company intranets and team collaboration software, allowing workers to stay connected and productive from anywhere in the world and from any device. For more information, please visit https://www.mangoapps.com/.
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, will discuss the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to fo...
The IoT is changing the way enterprises conduct business. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, discuss how businesses can gain an edge over competitors by empowering consumers to take control through IoT. We'll cite examples such as a Washington, D.C.-based sports club that leveraged IoT and the cloud to develop a comprehensive booking system. He'll also highlight how IoT can revitalize and restore outdated business models, making them profitable...
In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, will discuss how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects). Bruce Swann has more than 15 years of experience working with digital marketing disciplines like web analytics, social med...
IoT generates lots of temporal data. But how do you unlock its value? How do you coordinate the diverse moving parts that must come together when developing your IoT product? What are the key challenges addressed by Data as a Service? How does cloud computing underlie and connect the notions of Digital and DevOps What is the impact of the API economy? What is the business imperative for Cognitive Computing? Get all these questions and hundreds more like them answered at the 18th Cloud Expo...
SYS-CON Events announced today the How to Create Angular 2 Clients for the Cloud Workshop, being held June 7, 2016, in conjunction with 18th Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Angular 2 is a complete re-write of the popular framework AngularJS. Programming in Angular 2 is greatly simplified. Now it’s a component-based well-performing framework. The immersive one-day workshop led by Yakov Fain, a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and...
Customer experience has become a competitive differentiator for companies, and it’s imperative that brands seamlessly connect the customer journey across all platforms. With the continued explosion of IoT, join us for a look at how to build a winning digital foundation in the connected era – today and in the future. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Nguyen, Group Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, will discuss how to successfully leverage mobile, rapidly deploy content, capture real-time d...
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC Software has been named "Siver Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. BMC is a global leader in innovative software solutions that help businesses transform into digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive advantage. BMC Digital Enterprise Management is a set of innovative IT solutions designed to make digital business fast, seamless, and optimized from mainframe to mo...
What a difference a year makes. Organizations aren’t just talking about IoT possibilities, it is now baked into their core business strategy. With IoT, billions of devices generating data from different companies on different networks around the globe need to interact. From efficiency to better customer insights to completely new business models, IoT will turn traditional business models upside down. In the new customer-centric age, the key to success is delivering critical services and apps wit...
Join us at Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo 2016 – June 7-9 at the Javits Center in New York City and November 1-3 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – and deliver your unique message in a way that is striking and unforgettable by taking advantage of SYS-CON's unmatched high-impact, result-driven event / media packages.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, will provide an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex software systems for startups and enterprises. Since 2009 it has grown from a small group of passionate engineers and business managers to a full-scale mobile software company with over 200 develope...
SoftLayer operates a global cloud infrastructure platform built for Internet scale. With a global footprint of data centers and network points of presence, SoftLayer provides infrastructure as a service to leading-edge customers ranging from Web startups to global enterprises. SoftLayer's modular architecture, full-featured API, and sophisticated automation provide unparalleled performance and control. Its flexible unified platform seamlessly spans physical and virtual devices linked via a world...
Companies can harness IoT and predictive analytics to sustain business continuity; predict and manage site performance during emergencies; minimize expensive reactive maintenance; and forecast equipment and maintenance budgets and expenditures. Providing cost-effective, uninterrupted service is challenging, particularly for organizations with geographically dispersed operations.
SYS-CON Events announced today TechTarget has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TechTarget is the Web’s leading destination for serious technology buyers researching and making enterprise technology decisions. Its extensive global networ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management...