Different and divergent expectations for Crystal
- By Stephen Swoyer
Microsoft’s Reporting Services and the Eclipse BI Reporting Tool project
aren’t the only challenges faced by perennial reporting champ Crystal
Reports. Crystal must also grapple with questions about its future, thanks in
large part to the acquisition of its parent company 2 years ago by Business
Objects SA for more than $800 million.
BO has tried to balance Crystal’s traditional focus on best-in-class
enterprise reporting with its own desire to more tightly couple the Crystal
technologies to its eponymous BI suite. Many longtime Crystal users
are wary of the strategy.
“We are a little concerned about the integration of the product lines
between [Business Objects] and Crystal,” says programmer and longtime
Crystal hand Joel Klein. “Only time will tell.” Like many organizations,
Klein’s employer is a Crystal-centric shop. “We mostly use Crystal
as a reporting tool. We have hundreds of reports going out daily. We have integrated
it into applications, but we primarily use it as a strict reporting tool.”
He’s looked at other reporting solutions, Klein admits, but he still thinks
Crystal is “the easiest and most powerful to use.”
This is, by and large, the comportment of many Crystal vets. Take Peter Tyler,
a database programming consultant with The Lutheran World Federation, who admits
to some dissatisfaction, mostly concerning support and pricing, dating back
to before Business Objects took the helm. “Crystal began to market their
Web services software via Crystal Enterprise and threatened to discontinue the
built-in compiler in [Crystal Reports 8.0],” Tyler says. “What
they did not say was that although the purchaser received a license for five
concurrent Web users, the cost for a further five-user license was almost $10,000!”
Tyler also cites the evolution of Crystal’s free, unlimited e-mail support
policy, which the former Crystal Decisions amended on several occasions, and
which (with Business Objects at the helm) has since given way to a flat per-incident
fee. “Now one is supposed to pay Business Objects [approximately] $300
to report their bugs. This I refuse to do,” he says.
It’s mainly an issue of two very different, and perhaps divergent, expectations.
Many users, particularly developers, are content to use Crystal Reports
in support of traditional tasks, such as operational reporting and embedded
reporting. Business Objects, for its part, wants to improve the integration
between the Crystal technologies and its flagship BI stack. That makes sense,
given the BI giant’s $840 million stake.
For longtime Crystal hands like Tyler, this translates into a kind of skeptical
watchfulness. He cites Crystal Reports XI, which Business Objects shipped earlier
this year: Tyler concedes the XI release was far from disruptive but from the
perspective of some users, it didn’t bring much in the way of new functionality
to the table, either.
“I downloaded the trial version of Crystal XI, but the interesting
new features since V8.5, such as the Repository, the dynamic updating of parameters,
and others, didn’t work as promised because, apparently, I also needed
to install Business Objects.”
Not surprising, other Crystal vets—particularly those who work more consistently
with BI technologies (and particularly with Business Objects BI tools)—seem
encouraged by what Business Objects has wrought.
“It seems to provide a few features which have been demanded
for a long time by Crystal users, including one which will be of major
benefit to a lot of my clients,” says Duncan Sutcliffe, a U.K.-based Crystal
consultant and developer, ahead of the XI release. Sutcliffe, a Crystal Reports
XI beta user, lauded the new product’s revamped user interface, which
“will make the development environment feel less outdated.”
Elsewhere, Sutcliffe enthused about the synergies between the (almost completely
integrated) Crystal and Business Objects product lines.
“When combined in a future release, we should have a very flexible and
powerful meta-layer tool. It’s actually an exciting time when we consider
what could be offered in a unified product suite,” he concludes.
Back to feature: Business
Intelligence Through a Clouded Crystal
Stephen Swoyer is a contributing editor for Enterprise Systems. He can be reached at email@example.com.