Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Crystal Reports for Eclipse - Tutorial at EclipseCon 2006

If you are planning on attending EclipseCon 2006 in at Hyatt Regency Santa Clara then you may want to come and see Sean in a FREE tutorial on Monday 20th March at 1:30 thru 5pm.

This tutorial will guide users through the creation of a web application from start to finish, using the newly released Crystal Reports for Eclipse product to provide a high quality presentation layer with literally zero-coding from the developer. As time permits, users will also be guided through the process of migrating the solution to a full BI solution, enabling scheduling, integrated security, load balancing and fault-tolerance. No previous experience with Crystal Reports is required, however a basic understanding of web development is a pre-requisite

Information about the session can be found at http://www.eclipsecon.org/2006/Sub.do?id=417.

This tutorial will be FREE and will be a great opportunity to get to know Crystal Reports for Eclipse and ask questions to our product experts.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What's next for Crystal Reports for Eclipse?

I know that we haven't even hit Beta for our initial offering but already we have started talking about we can do next. For those of you who are familiar with Business Objects, you will know that we have a pretty extensive suite of software offerings. Whether it's our Query and Analysis tools, our Performance Management offerings, our award winning BI platform or our Data Integration software, there are a number of opportunities for us to explore when deciding what type of tooling we want to offer Eclipse Developers next. One of the ideas I have my heart set on is to provide some developer tooling around our Crystal Xcelsius product. I'm not sure how many of you have had an opportunity to try this product yet but the "cool" factor is way up on this one. Crystal Xcelsius falls under what we call "Interactive Visual Analytics" and was added to our suite with the acquisition of Infommersion last fall. Essentially, the product allows you to import Excel spreadsheets (or connect to data provided via web services) and build rich interactive visualizations around the data. The output can then be integrated into web pages, Powerpoint presentations or PDF documents.

Below are some screenshots of the output produced with Crystal Xcelsius. Clicking on the image will bring up the actual output allowing you to fully interact with the visualizations. (note: Macromedia Flash is required to view the links)

What did I tell you...pretty cool! Not only do these visualizations spice up your website, but just imagine what they do for your powerpoint presentations. It is pretty impressive to be able to handle the "what-if" scenarios in the middle of a presentation without having to generate a new report.

Anyways, if you are interested in learning more about the samples above or seeing more samples applications in action you can check out the Crystal Xcelsius showcase here. As well, we do have evaluation copies of the software which users can download. If you don't believe me when I say it is extremely easy to create quality visualizations like those above then I suggest you give it a try on your own. You can download an evaluation of the software from here.

As I mentioned above, if I get my way we will soon see some tooling around this product showing up in Eclipse. I can foresee a lot of developers quickly falling in love with the "cool factor" associated with this product, as I have. Anyways, my apologies for going off on a Marketing tangent. As always I openly invite any comments or feedback. Let me know if you think developers will use a product like Crystal Xcelsius...or if you think I am out to lunch! :)

So, there's a little glimpse of what I am thinking about for future releases of Crystal Reports for Eclipse. If anyone else out there has ideas about what they would like to see in future releases feel free to comment on the post.

Well, it's back to work for me. Until next time...


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Crystal Reports for Eclipse and Open Source Support

There have been a couple questions regarding the strategy for Crystal Reports for Eclipse so I wanted to respond here. While we haven't released final pricing and availability details at this time, the fundamental strategy is to provide Eclipse developers with the well-known, proven, and powerful Crystal Reports embeddeded reporting functionality.

Crystal Reports for Eclipse builds on our heritage of providing bundled report design functionality with Microsoft (Visual Basic, VisualStudio.NET, and VisualStudio 2005), Borland, BEA, and IBM IDE's. We also include a limited scalability version of our report processing engine to get people started with their projects. In order to unlock the scalability, customers can purchase either the Crystal Reports Developer edition, Crystal Reports Server, or BusinessObjects Enterprise depending on their requirements.

Crystal Reports for Eclipse is not an open source project. We are not releasing the source code. However, we are providing a community web site, forums, and open lines of communication like this blog to rapidly respond to customer requests. We are providing developers software for no charge for design and testing (see below for more details). We are a member of eclipse.org , we are a Gold sponsor of EclipseCon, and we will continue to be an active supporter of the open source community. We believe we provide a solid combination of commercial software and support for the open source community with this initiative.

Our intention is to release the project similar to how open source projects are released using a 'release early and often' type of strategy. We have released a technical preview already. We will make a available a beta version as well before the final release later this year.

Building on our heritage and experience in providing integrated reporting into IDE's, we believe Crystal Reports for Eclipse will deliver superior report design, data access, and flexibile deployment options compared to any reporting tool on the market--open source or not.

We will provide the Crystal Reports for Eclipse software for no charge for developers. Developers can design reports and build applications for no charge. The preview software that's available now is very similiar to how developers will experience the final version. It's freely available! When a developer deploys the application on a server, we will offer low cost deployment licenses (with technical support) for integrated report viewing as well as higher end solutions for mission critical reporting and business intelligence applications. Exact pricing has not been released at this time. Note that Crystal Reports Developer is available for $595 US which allows for component-based report viewing. See the information sheet here for more details on these options.

We believe we'll provide all the benefits of an open source project without the risk of smaller vendors counting on you the developer paying support and services revenue to survive.

I'd like to encourage everyone to download the preview and give it a try for yourself. Please give us feedback on our product and/or our approach and help us help you.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Making a splash at EclipseCon 2006

Business Objects has signed on to be a Gold Sponsor at this year's EclipseCon. It looks like a great lineup this year with over 140 technical sessions. The conference will be held in Santa Clara, CA from March 20 - 23. If you are able to attend I would highly recommend it. On top of being a Gold Sponsor, I will be presenting a free tutorial on Crystal Reports for Eclipse. This will be open for all attendees. You can find out more information about the tutorial here. You should be able to pre-register for the tutorial but I can't seem to figure out how to do it at this time.

As well, Business Objects is sponsoring the Open Source Pavilion in its inaugural appearance at EclipseCon. We will be providing up to 10 scholarships to open source projects. This will hopefully enable them to attend and show off their wares. For more information on the Open Source Pavilion check out this article on Eclipse.org.

Anyways, I hope to see you there. If you want more information about the conference check out the conference website at http://www.eclipsecon.org


Friday, February 03, 2006

Ginsu Reports...

It slices... It dices... It even cuts through cans... not to mention it provides a little reporting now and then.

I am going to take a break from talking specifically about the integration with Eclipse and use the next few posts to talk about more general topics. I know that a lot of people who read this blog have used reporting technologies in the past. Whether it’s been Crystal Reports, WebIntelligence, JasperReports, BIRT, or any other reporting solution, most developers find themselves having a need for formatting and outputting data at some point in their career. I have been working with the Crystal Reports SDKs for over 5 years now, and during this time I have built many applications that lend themselves to the traditional “BI” solution (e.g. charts and listed data), but every now and then I find myself using the SDK/Report Designer to do something that most people wouldn’t think of trying with a reporting engine.

Often, when a developer looks at a requirement, the first thought that jumps to through their head is how they can build the solution. They may google the web to see if there are any code snippets that exist or look into which packages will provide the functionality to make their jobs easier, but in the end the path usually leads them to building their own solution. A few years back, when I was on the Developer Support team, I started thinking “How could this be done with Crystal Reports?”. The result... I ended up with quite an array of unique sample reports/applications. I thought it would be cool to see what the rest of you may have done with reporting, it doesn’t have to have been built with Crystal Reports, just any time that you may have used a reporting tool outside its “normal” boundaries. I have included 3 stories of mine, plus 1 from a colleague that I saw recently.

The Script Generator
As I mentioned earlier, I used to work on the Developer Support team. Back in the CR 8.0 and CR 8.5 days we used to also handle installation issues. Every once in a while a customer would call up because they were having issues with missing PROGIDs from the registry. This usually pointed to unregistered DLL files, normally due to lack of permissions when the product was installed. The solution was to either re-install the product or manually register the specific DLLs. Manually registering was often time consuming and generally a trial and error process. One day, while playing around with Crystal Reports, I noticed it had a database driver that allowed me to report off of the File System. Using this driver to filter the report to return only files with .dll extensions, I created a formula that read essentially "regsvr32 " + filename. I placed the formula in the Details section and exported to a text file. "Voila!" I now had a batch file that cycled through every and attempted to manually register every DLL file in the folder. What essentially took less than a few minutes to create ended up saving me and my customers a lot of time in the long run.

The Custom Calendar Report
This actually started out with a call from a customer who worked for a hotel chain. He wanted to create a calendar to show how many rooms were free on a given day in any month. Unfortunately, Crystal Reports did not come with a built-in Calendar control which allowed users to modify data on a given day. However, I was still able to create a mock-up which the user ended up using to dynamically create a calendar. I used Crystal Reports to create a report that contained 7x6 grid of text boxes. Using the Crystal Reports API I was able to modify the text box values at runtime based on the month and year. The result was a report which displayed a calendar with the number of available rooms for each day. I have since modified the application for a company that wanted to color-code the sales range for a particular day (e.g under $5000 = Red, etc.). This was easy to do once I had the template report already created.

Ebert who???
For those people who know me, most will agree that I am slightly addicted to my DVD movies. I have grown a rather substantial collection over the years, to the point where I now catalog my DVDs in a database. Anyways, as a Product Manager, we are trained to listen to what the market is telling us, this helps us build better product requirements. I have found that I now use this philosophy to pretty much guide my entire decision-making process. Whether I am choosing a restaurant to eat out at, a hotel to stay at or my next digital camera, I always find myself researching the public opinion websites to see what the rest of you have to say. Well, the same holds true with my personal DVD collection. I wanted to have a way to dynamically retrieve the latest public opinion about all my movies. I was able to do this using a Custom User Function Library(UFL) within Crystal Reports. If you haven't had an opportunity to play with these yet, they have some pretty cool capabilities. In a nutshell, UFLs allow users to make call-outs to external logic (Java, COM, C++) from within a report. Anyways, to solve my DVD public opinion issue I built a UFL that will take in the name of each of my DVDs and access the movie's page on IMDB.com. For those of you unfamiliar with IMDB.com, it is an online database of movies which allows the community to rate movies between 1 and 10. My UFL is able to retrieve this rating and return it to the report. This was only the beginning, I actually modified the UFL to return the DVD cover image, the synopsis, and the movie's Genre to my report. Now, when I want to choose a movie I can simply filter the report to return what I feel like that night. For example, I can search for "All Comedies with an average rating of 7.0 or higher". The report will bring back the list of DVDs, it's IMDB average rating, a brief synopsis of each movie and the DVD cover image. Now if only IMDB would add the genre "Chick-flick" I could filter those out before my wife has an opportunity to see the list :) . When "Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants" shows up with an average score of 7.0 on my Comedy list, I will likely find myself hunkering down to watch a bunch of girls share a pair of jeans for the summer if my wife gets hold of the list before me...but that's another story.

Finally, I recently had an opportunity to see something a co-worker was working on where he was using Web Services and our reporting technology to report off of places for sale on Craigslist.com. He was then using another web service to connect to the GoogleMaps API and pass in the address of each place on the market. The end result was a dynamic report which filtered the Craigslist listings and displayed the results on a map of the area. It was really cool.

Anyways, I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg of what people have done with reporting technologies. I would love to hear what the rest of you have been able to accomplish so don't be afraid to post a reply.

Until next time.