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9/96 Reviews SW: Crystal Reports Professional 5.0

Listing of September 1996 Reviews

Update Renders Data Crystal-Clear

By James E. Powell

Crystal Reports Pro has always been a powerful report writer, but its latest incarnation is stronger than ever, offering conditional reports, subreports and new output options.

The conditional report sections, my favorite new feature, makes Crystal Reports Professional a valuable tool for building form letters. I can create one that prints Detail Section A for all customers but adds Detail Section B only when certain conditions, such as exceeding a credit limit, are met. It offers one-step mail merge, and Report Wizard steps you through the setup of complex reports, such as those that add data to preprinted forms.

Report Wizard is reentrant, meaning that you simply restart it and modify existing reports rather than build a new report from scratch if you don't like the original report. The Subreports option nests reports. Each subreport has its own query and layout, which need not be related to anything in the main report or other subreports on the same page. This feature is particularly handy. You could use it to place different views of the same data side-by-side, for example.

This version's formatting options have been improved. If a field exceeds a predefined limit you can display it in red, and a new graphic expert/wizard helps you with Crystal's 80 different styles.

But Crystal still misses the boat on some usability issues. Clicking on the "%" icon adds a percent sign to a number, for instance, but you won't find the same option in the Format Field dialog box. It also lacks in-depth documentation; most paper entries point to the online version, but that isn't always helpful either.

Version 5.0 improves exporting to Word and Excel, and adds support for Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange and the Internet (via HTML). The update also adds native drivers for Oracle, Sybase and Microsoft SQL Server, and you can even read from new data sources, such as Windows NT event logs and Microsoft Exchange.

The program comes in both 16- and 32-bit versions and remains exceptionally easy for developers to incorporate into applications. Its flexibility and excellent cross section of new features keep it at the top of my report writers list. Crystal Reports lets you control and format multiple detail lines per database record based on a virtually unlimited range of options.

--Info File--
Crystal Reports Professional 5.0
$395; upgrade, $199
Pros: Power; flexibility
Cons: Inconsistent user interface
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x
Seagate Software
800-877-2340, 604-681-3435
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

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