A review of Crystal Reports V10 Advanced Developer Edition and MetaEdit+ 4.0

Crystal Reports V10 Advanced Developer Edition
Cost: $1,995
Business Objects
San Jose, Calif.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Most developers have used Crystal Reports at one time or another. It is one of the oldest banded report writers, is packaged with VS and VS .NET, and it has market penetration. This upgrade is the first version since Business Objects bought Crystal Decisions to round out its business reporting platform.

Crystal provides for a variety of runtime deployment scenarios, from a reporting engine that you can bundle with desktop apps, to Web reports that run directly on your Web server, to a separate reporting server that communicates with the other tiers of your app through Web services. You will also find connectivity with a variety of data sources, grouping, sorting, crosstabs and OLAP reports.

Improvements for Java developers include a 100% Java version of the reporting engine, as well as integration with JBuilder and BEA WebLogic Workshop. There is also a new custom JSP tag library to make it easy to integrate reporting with Java apps.

On the .NET side, there are a batch of new data sources, improved merge modules to ease deploying Crystal with .NET apps, and more export formats. Working with the designer is easier and the WebForm viewer has extra customizability.

With either the Java or .NET solutions, the upgrade to the standalone reporting server has been streamlined and simplified to a single line of code.

V10 also makes it easier to maintain a library of reports and develop new ones. Business Views abstract domain-specific information from a variety of data sources, and let your DBA provide an abstraction layer between the reports and raw data sources. The Repository has also been made more flexible; you can store text objects, images, SQL commands and custom functions for use across reports.

It is nice to see a full release coming so soon after the Crystal acquisition, and clear messaging about the future of the product. Crystal Reports will be a viable player in the enterprise reporting field for a long time to come.

MetaEdit+ 4.0
Cost: EURO 5,500
Jyvaskyla, Finland

Rating: 4 out of 5

Developing software is largely a matter of handling a tower of abstractions. Ultimately, your code is just controlling whether electrons are flowing through transistors or not, but by the time you go from transistors to ICs to microcode to machine language to assembly language to higher-level languages to modeling, that fact can disappear. What MetaEdit+ brings to the party is yet another layer of abstraction. But it is for a good cause: They argue that you can get code faster if you use their tool properly.

MetaEdit+ is a "metaCase" tool. Traditional Case tools, like UML, apply a level of abstraction above the actual code, so you can model the problem and have it spit out code. With MetaEdit's Method Workbench, you design your own domain-specific modeling (DSM) language. So, if you are working on software to drive test equipment, for example, you would first build a DSM language containing objects, roles, relations and so on that apply to your problem domain. Instead of the generic objects that UML supplies, you would end up with Frequency Counters, Display Units and rules on how they can be connected.

After designing your modeling language, your focus can shift to MetaEdit+, where you build domain-specific models. MetaEdit+ gives you a drag-and-drop environment for hooking together objects and roles according to the relationships you defined when building the language. The final piece of the puzzle is a flexible reporting language. "Reporting" is a misnomer here; although you can export a diagram to HTML, Word, XML or create a list of all the objects in a diagram along with their properties, the reporting language is much more capable than that. In fact, you can use a MetaEdit+ report as a code-generator.

Version 4.0 polishes the user interface and adds a SOAP API to integrate MetaEdit+ models with other running apps. The system is easy to use, and the tutorial is well-written (though it does not quite match the new user interface). A trial version is available from the company's Web site.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.


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