Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Need for Reporting Software

When was the last time you came across a report on the net? Well, don't you remember the last telephone bill that you accessed on the net? Or the last e-bank statement which was sent to you by your banker? Well, have you ever thought how it is possible to generate these many reports when your banker or your telephone operator have client lists running in millions!!! Well, it is simple. Now we have softwares which does anything for making our lives simpler. Remember the times when we had to plan our budgets on papers, using pens, pencils, erasers and calculators and what not!!! Well, today, you just need to enter the details on an excel sheet and the tools to manipulate your report is abundantly available. You wanna see the total expense or your income after tax, you don't need a calculator also. Its just a click away. In excel, you can define formulas, for calculating complex things and then it just need your input. As soon as you keep putting your expenses, it will keep reducing it from the Balance available in your account. You have a very simple report ready.

For simple reports, Excel is an excellent software. For personal reporting purposes it works brilliantly. But that is not the case with the poor banker or the telephone or internet service provider, who has to do these calculations for millions of their customers. So, as the next step, they approaches a software developer for a solution. Now the software developer develops an application which automates the reporting works and integrates with an existing or a new web portal of his client. Report generation may not be the only thing this application does, it may have the ability to, say report customer complaints and suggestions or do a trading online et al. Now the developer has two options- Create a reporting solution by himself, or embed an efficient reporting software in the application, which can do all the reporting works by itself. Writing codes for reporting solution needs a lot of time, effort and manpower resources. So today programmers go for the easier way, which is an embeddable reporting tool.

Well, problem solved for your Banker or the telephone/internet service provider, and problem solved for the software developer. Wait a minute... You said there are so many reporting tools available in the market, which are they and how will I know which one to use!!! Hmmm... Now this is becoming more interesting. Firstly, different reporting tools provides different features. Its like this, an iPod is a sleek product which can be used for viewing mp4 movies, but when it comes to other commonly used formats like mpeg or mpegav, you may have to opt for a comparatively bulkier Creative Zen Vision or something like that. But you can convert movie files in other formats to mp4 with a software, which again will be time consuming. So, if someone does not want the troubles of all these would go and buy a Zen Vision and a valet to carry it. It is the same case with reporting softwares also. Some are a perfect wed for .Net platform, where are some are developed keeping in mind the Java platform users. For example, JReport or Jasper report works excellent with Java, but does not support .Net framework, whereas Crystal Reports from Business Objects is a good bet for .Net platform users. Now, Crystal report can work on .Net as well as Java with the help of some adapters called JRCs (Java Reporting Components). Now this is like using a software t convert mpegav files to mp4 files. If you don't want these troubles, you can opt for JReport or Jasper Reports.

List of Reporting Softwares available in the Market

Commercial software

  • 90 Degree Software
  • Actuate
  • Cognos BI
  • Combit List and Label
  • Crystal Reports
  • DBxtra - Reporting Software
  • i-net Crystal-Clear
  • InetSoft Style Report
  • Information Builders' FOCUS and WebFOCUS
  • Intellicus
  • Izenda Ad Hoc
  • JReports
  • Logi 8 LogiXML
  • Microstrategy
  • OPRO X Server
  • Oracle XML Publisher
  • repro
  • Microsft SQL Server Report

Free or open source software

  • Agata Report
  • Eclipse BIRT Project
  • JasperReports
  • LGX_Report by LogiXML
  • Pentaho
  • GNU_Enterprise (reporting sub-package)
  • CrossCompass_Free
(Major ones are in bold letters)

To know more about the reporting tools available on the market, please click on the links with the reporting software's name.

Active Reports

ActiveReports for .NET from Data Dynamics is the unsung hero of .NET reporting. In a category traditionally dominated by high-priced reporting, ActiveReports has been a affordable alternative that packs in just as many features.

Using ActiveReports you can create reports from OLEDB and SQLClient data sources within your .NET application, as well as XML, ADO.NET data sets, views, tables and row collections, as well as unbound data (i.e. data that is not bound to a specific data set until the report is run.)

As ActiveReports has been around for a while, the report designer itself has been improved through a number of iterations over the years and Visual Studio developers should feel right at home, as it is integrated within the Visual Studio.NET IDE. With a logical organisation and workflow, little training is required to start using the tool, with most developers preferring to jump into the tool first and read the documentation later.

ActiveReports supports multiple reporting formats and there are a number of sample reports to demonstrate how the tool can be used. These samples provide a good starting point for your own development and ideas and it is easy to combine different types of report sections into one report. In addition, you can host third-party controls for charting, images, etc. to extend your report design, meaning you aren’t limited to just the features that ActiveReports includes. On the export side, ActiveReports supports RTF, PDF, Excel, HTML, TIFF and text file exports with good results.

For integrating reports into your application, ActiveReports has a number of sample applications to point you in the right direction and the documentation includes full code listings that will allow you to cut and paste code directly into your own application. You can be quite creative with where you place the reports within your application and a well-documented API make customising the report at run-time a snap.

ActiveReports for .NET
Vendor: Data Dynamics
Price: US$499 for Standard Edition

Jasper Reports

JasperReports is an open-source reporting tool for Java that can be used to create simple reports for integration within a Java application. To use JasperReports, you will need to download the JAR files or source code from SourceForge. The report framework itself is very basic and has only a fraction of the features you would find in a commercial product. But with that said, the basic features you would expect to create presentation-quality reports are there, if not as polished as its commercial counterparts.

To create reports, you will need to know XML pretty well, as there is a lot of hand-coding and editing required. Alternately, you can download one of the open source report designers that is available for JasperReports .

The samples that come with JasperReports are very simplistic, so don’t expect to create complex reports off of the bat. You may be able to work with the tool to create more complex reports for your own uses, but it is difficult to work with (even with one of the afore-mentioned designers).

For exporting, JasperReports supports PDF, HTML, XLS, CSV and XML file formats. And the integration options for integrating JasperReports into an application are simple but effective and most Java developers will be able to pick the skills up quickly to preview, print and export reports.

Vendor: Jasper Report, open source project
Price: Free

Crystal Report

Crystal Reports from Business Objects is one of the most familiar tools for developers, through it’s long association with Microsoft and Visual Studio. There are actually two editions of Crystal Reports that developers can use-- Crystal Reports for Visual Studio.NET is the bundled report writer that is included with Visual Studio.NET versions, which Crystal Reports 10 is the stand-alone, retail edition that developers can upgrade to or buy outright. For this review, we will be looking at the latter as most developers upgrade to get the latest features and functionality.

Crystal Reports can report off of a number of different data sources through ODBC, OLAP and direct database drivers and can connect to custom data sources as well. When creating a report from a data source, you can simply drag-and-drop fields onto your report and Crystal Reports will build the SQL automatically for you or you can write your own SQL statement.

The report designer itself is intuitive and there are a number of “experts” or “wizards” to guide you through common reporting tasks, like creating a basic report, creating a running total, and so forth. The number of report formats that Crystal Reports supports is limited only by your imagination and how much time you have on your hands.

A single Crystal Report can include multiple sections (including types of sections, i.e. 2 page headers) and multiple objects in those sections, including charts, graphs, cross-tab tables, geographic maps, formulas, etc.

For exporting a report, Crystal Reports supports over 16 different formats, including HTML, DHTML, PDF, Excel, Word, RTF and Text formats, with special export options for making reports exported to Excel more functional.

On the integration side, Crystal Reports has the widest platform support of any of the tools we looked at in this review, including integrated IDE support for tools from Borland and IBM, as well as platform support for COM, Delphi, .NET and Java. The documentation and samples that ship with the product are good and there is a strong third-party community of Crystal Reports developers that keep Web sites and resources updated.

The one area that developers will struggle with when integrating Crystal Reports is scalability. Business Objects makes it’s money through selling products and licenses, including an enterprise reporting solution called “Crystal Enterprise”.

Developers who want to build large-scale applications will find themselves either purchasing additional licenses or changing their application to work with Crystal Enterprise to get the kind of performance they need. The pricing for these solutions can be prohibitive for developers, especially when other reporting products provide a scalable framework for reporting for the original product price.

Crystal Reports 10
Vendor: Business Objects
Price: $685 for Developer Edition


JReport from Jinfonet Software is a reporting suite designed for Java developers which is 100% J2EE and can be used to embed reports into Java applications. The JReport Designer is a drag and drop report designer that you can use to create reports from a number of different data sources, including JDBC, XML, EJB and others using the built-in data source API. To make it easier to work with these data sources, JReport also features a GUI query editor which you can use to write the SQL queries that serve as the basis for your reports. And if you have invested heavily in data processing on the server side, JReport supports the use of stored procedures as well. For the “newbie” JReport developer there are report wizards available to help you build some of the most common report formats (tables, cross-tabs, graphs, etc.) In addition, the designer features an intuitive interface that most developers should be able to pick up on quickly. At the presentation layer, JReport does go beyond other Java-centric reporting offerings in it’s support for TrueType fonts, making the reports more readable and solving some of the cross-platform issues experienced with other tools. JReport also features two and three-dimensional charting with over 50 chart and graph formats available and a robust chart API that can be used to import charts and graphs from other packages. For output, JReport supports most of the formats you would expect including HTML, DHTML, XML, Text, PDF, RTF, CSV, Excel and Postscript. The majority of these formats provide a good quality export of the report, with some formats preferred for different uses (i.e. PDF or Postscript for printer-quality files) and the Excel export provides a spreadsheet that you can work with but like most tools we looked at not designed for Excel output, the results can be mixed depending on the complexity of the report. Calculations in your report can be performed using any of the 160 built-in functions and using the user-designed objects API you can import your own Java functions to extend JReport as required. This is a definitely time-saver for Java developers who have made a significant investment in creating their own logic and functions. From an integration standpoint, working with JReport is a breeze. Clearly documented API’s makes things easier from the start and you will find for a quick view-only integration, you won’t spend more than an hour or so integrating it into your application. And for desktop applications, JReport can be deployed in a stand-alone application using beans for the report engine and report viewer. In addition to the JReport Designer, Jinfonet also has a server-based solution, JReport Enterprise Server that you can use to create multi-tier reporting applications if you need to add some grunt to your reporting apps.

JReport Designer

JReport Designer is a 100% Java, Swing-based report design tool that facilitates rapid report development, precise layout, flexible output, and actionable reporting. JReport Designer provides a highly flexible report development environment and offers a number features and functions that speed the report creation and deployment process, including:

• An intuitive visual design environment
• Re-usable report components
• Hundreds of ready-to-use objects, charts & tables
• Access to any data source
• Multiple data source support in the same report

JReport Designer empowers developers with the ability to quickly build reports that efficiently deliver information to end users via any Web browser.

Rapid Design Environment
With JReport, designing even the most sophisticated reports is intuitive. JReport Designer’s feature-rich interactive design environment allows report designers to simply drag-and-drop report elements into the template. Or, JReport offers wizards to guide designers through selecting data sources, creating queries, and designing report layout. In addition, reusable components expedite the design process by providing a central location for sharing and editing commonly used objects. A WYSIWYG interface and view during design feature enables users to view report outputs exactly as they will appear, including data, from within the design environment.

Flexible & Precise Report Design
JReport Designer can display information from any data source, including user-defined and hierarchical data sources, enabling enterprises to quickly and easily report on data from anywhere in their organization. Pixel-perfect layout, predefined and customizable styles, and over 50 chart types allow for creation of reports with any look and feel.

Easy Report Publishing & Dissemination
Once designed, Reports are deployed to the Enterprise Server for on-demand viewing, scheduling, or versioning. JReport offers users the flexibility to export reports to a variety of formats from a single template, including DHTML, HTML, PDF, Excel, XML, RTF and CSV. And, because security permissions can be assigned down page-, row-, column-, and cell-level, end users can view different results from the same report template.

Crystal Converter
JReport features an integrated Crystal Report Converter that automatically converts any Crystal Report to an editable JReport template, simplifying transition to a Java platform.

JReport Enterprise Server

JReport Enterprise Server empowers applications with customized reporting. Built completely in Java, JReport deploys on any J2EE application server and seamlessly integrates into any application, scales to any workload, and provides complete report management, distribution, and administrative functionality. JReport Enterprise Server enhances applications by providing users with intuitive, consistent interfaces for accessing and interacting with business-critical reports.

Easy, Seamless Integration
JReport’s pure Java architecture and rich set of APIs enable seamless integration and customization of reporting within other applications. With its sophisticated reporting capabilities and ability to integrate with existing security schemes, JReport adds immediate value, as critical data can be securely extended across the enterprise. Using JReport’s collection of reusable tags, developers can easily embed the desired components of JReport’s DHTML interface directly into JSPs in minimal time. In doing so, reports are delivered or accessed through a familiar and consistent interface, alleviating the need for end user training. Because JReport integrates right out of the box, few resources are required for implementation and maintenance and time-to-market is expedited.

Interactive & Ad Hoc Reporting
With JReport’s interactive DHTML output, end users can dynamically modify – filter, search, sort & drill - reports to obtain unique and personal data views. JReport’s DHTML toolbar or interactive Web objects can be embedded into reports or JSPs at design time, enabling users to control, customize and navigate report views. JReport further extends interactive reporting by empowering applications with ad hoc reporting. End users can define report criteria and layout at run-time to generate interactive ad-hoc reports.

High Performance, Scalable Solution
JReport Enterprise Server is built on a high performance engine that can handle any workload demand and easily scales from single-CPU to large, multi-CPU and clustered server environments. To ensure system availability and ready access to JReport functions and report output, JReport Enterprise Server enables fail over mechanisms that are fault tolerant to any single point of failure. JReport offers several features to optimize performance by making the most efficient use of system resources. And, with JReport’s Web-based system performance monitor, administrators can view system status and manage resource and configuration settings from anywhere.

Flexible Report Management
JReport’s built-in folder structure for resource management contains two repositories – “Public Reports” for access by any authorized end user and “My Reports” for personal access only by the folder owner. Reports can be generated and distributed in any format including DHTML, HTML, PDF, Excel, XML, CSV, RTF, and delivered via email and fax. In addition, report triggering, scheduling, and versioning can be managed using the Enterprise Server management console.

Jinfonet Software can be found on the web at


Vendor: Jinfonet
Price: on application