Crystal Shines... For Some - InformationWeek
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3/11/2008
11:02 AM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Crystal Shines... For Some

Last November, Business Objects officially released Crystal Reports 2008. It's the product's flashiest release in recent years - and I do mean that literally. One of the most noteworthy enhancements is the ability to embed Flash files within a report. The use of Flash brings reports to life in a way that make them more like mini applications - rich, interactive, and visually appealing... There is the inevitable "BUT," and that is in the product's timing and dependencies.

Last November, Business Objects officially released Crystal Reports 2008. It's the product's flashiest release in recent years - and I do mean that literally. One of the most noteworthy enhancements is the ability to embed Flash files within a report. The use of Flash brings reports to life in a way that make them more like mini applications - rich, interactive, and visually appealing. The Flash files can be built in a report developer's tool of choice, but the tightest integration is with the company's dashboard product Xcelsius.

The other enhancement is the ability to view reports over the Web and interactively sort and filter the data cached within the report. The parameters refresh the display without reexecuting a query and thus straining the database, a weakness in some competitive products and in earlier versions of Crystal Reports. There is the inevitable 'BUT' and that is in the product's timing and dependencies.In order for enterprise customers to take advantage of the best features in Crystal Reports 2008, including those described above, they need to be on XI 3.0, due out this quarter. In some realms, a five month lag in platform support may not be considered long. My complaint is that this dependency was not clearly communicated in any of the product launches, so it seems to me a case of the vendor building demand in a way that IT can't deliver on. (Note: these same dependency issues exist in the Edge Series for medium-sized businesses and in the on-demand offering, Crystal Reports.com. Support for these platforms will be added at some point later in the year).

Customer upgrades to server environments will typically extend months after the actual XI 3.0 ship date (even if IT gets started right away) as it's a bigger effort than simply upgrading report developer software. Business Objects says that the majority of the Crystal Reports user base are individual developers, not enterprise customers, and to be fair, developers could build a custom Web app to take advantage of the new capabilities.

With the acquisition by SAP now complete, it comes as no surprise that Crystal Reports is positioned as the future of reporting (supplanting BEx Report Designer, released in mid 2006 as a replacement to the formerly OEMed Crystal Reports). Here's the catch again: a trial version of Crystal Reports 2008 for SAP will only be available in the second half of 2008. Such report developers need to think carefully about whether they are better investing time and skills in BEx Report Designer or, I would suggest, investing in an earlier version of Crystal Reports.

No wonder it's called "eye-candy" - you can look but can't eat it just yet.

For a detailed product review, see the updated evaluation on BIScorecard.Last November, Business Objects officially released Crystal Reports 2008. It's the product's flashiest release in recent years - and I do mean that literally. One of the most noteworthy enhancements is the ability to embed Flash files within a report. The use of Flash brings reports to life in a way that make them more like mini applications - rich, interactive, and visually appealing... There is the inevitable "BUT," and that is in the product's timing and dependencies.

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