Crystal Reports is the most famous reporting software package around. But fame does not necessarily equal greatness. So we asked one of our developers to give us his take on Crystal.
Yes, a Windward programmer. Someone paid by Windward. Someone paid to improve Windward software.
But we still think you’ll be interested in his unedited experience with Crystal Reports. And if you’ve used Crystal before, you may find it familiar.
Download and Installation
I had a pretty easy time getting the Crystal Reports demo up and running. It was simple to find the file, download it and run the program. But I had to download an extremely large – 1.05 GB – zip file, and after it was installed, I had to guess what to do next because the software didn’t come with any guidance or instruction.
Download and Installation Summary: Crystal Reports installation is straightforward but involves a massive file and provides no clear path for how to use the software.
Wow – Crystal Reports is complex. I found the interface overwhelming and intimidating, partly because of the unfamiliar development environments. And I say this as a programmer; it must be even worse for non-programmers.
Awkward report design is one of the biggest drawbacks of Crystal Reports. You have to place information in pre-defined areas of the report, and these layout restrictions severely limit the functionality and capability of creating reports. For example, take their Cross Tab option for cell-level control. The grid allows you to return values in the table based on chosen criteria, and it looks spectacular – until you try to use it.
Inserting tags with Crystal Reports is also difficult. To simply iterate over a set of records, you have to figure out how to manipulate the Group section and Details section of the development environment. To get the effect of conditional actions, you have to set up tricky Parameter Fields (which create special variables based upon values that determine the appearance and behavior of the final report) as well as Formula Fields (which allow for formula building). And while Formula Workshop allows formula building for selection formulas, formula fields, SQL Expression fields, etc., it is overloaded with way too many buttons and frames.
On a happier note, Crystal Reports provides an extensive library of predefined functions for convenience in building reports. I also liked the Subreports option for inserting reports into other reports. This is useful for combining unrelated reports, presenting different views of the same data, and presenting data that is otherwise difficult to present.
Product Usage Summary: If your goal is to write reports without doing any textual coding, you may find the high learning curve acceptable. The complexity of such reports is limited, however, which means in order to create more complex reports, you must learn how to develop formulas – a daunting task.
Support and Documentation
After struggling with the design tool, I was happy to find the user guide and samples. The User Guide is comprehensive and does a good job of guiding you through developing reports. The Quick Start section is also helpful, because it gave me confidence in getting started. Another aspect I liked is that key words throughout the document are linked to their appropriate sections, making it fast and easy to find the information you’re looking for.
Support and Documentation Summary: Even after going through the helpful Quick Start guides and spending hours reading the User Guide, I still had the ability to design only extremely simple reports on my own.
Crystal Reports is a powerful reporting tool with a steep learning curve. The system is so complicated that even after studying the manual and learning the functionality, it is difficult to create anything other than simple reports. Crystal Reports requires using a complex system that takes serious time to master.