Crystal Reports Professional 5.0

Crystal-Clear Reporting

Crystal Reports Professional 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 make Crystal Reports Professional a valuable tool for building form letters. 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.

Formatting options have been fine-tuned in this version. For example, 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, 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.

You can export to over 20 formats. 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.

Crystal Reports Professional 5.0
Price: $395
Pros: Conditional and subreports
Cons: Usability could be better
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Seagate Software
800-663-1244, 604-681-3435
WinMag Box Score 4

FileMaker Pro 3.0

Maintain Many, Many Relationships

Create one-to-many and many-to-one relationships between two files, including a minimal amount of referential integrity, with FileMaker Pro 3.0. The program retains its look-up feature, which copies data from one file to another-sometimes all the relational capability you need. You can glimpse into another database to set up master/detail reports and forms with a special object called a portal. Build scripts with programming constructs such as loops and if/then/else, and include custom messages complete with OK and Cancel buttons.

Database files are easily set up, and the tabbed dialog boxes let you set options such as range checking and automatic serialization for numeric fields. Forms are a snap to create and can contain traditional GUI elements, such as radio buttons and check boxes. FileMaker still doesn't have a traditional programming language, but its script builder is among the simplest to learn and use.

Other features of the network-ready FileMaker Pro include a spell checker, a converter that imports files created with other programs and the ability to export a file's structure without its data.

FileMaker Pro 3.0
Price: $199
Pros: One-to-many, many-to-one relationships; retains look-up feature
Cons: Could be more intuitive
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Claris Corp.
800-544-8554, 408-727-8227
WinMag Box Score 3.5

Visual dBASE 5.5

Play Both Ends Of the Database Field

Version 5.0 successfully straddled the fence dividing the end-user and application developer camps. Visual dBASE 5.5 builds on both ends, with new features to please both data dabblers and application pros.

At a project's start, you get help from the new Table Expert. When you create a new table, the Table Expert provides a sample list. As you select a generic sample, the table's fields are displayed, and you can scroll through the field list.

The improved Form Expert is now customizable and offers a simple step-by-step procedure to get to a finished form.

The Report Expert is brand-new. It works much like the Form Expert, with the same basic steps. What's most appealing is that it's now possible to cobble together a report without launching dBASE's report generator, Crystal Reports. This makes it easy to design simple or ad hoc reports, and to prototype more complex efforts before doing the heavy-duty work.

Most of the dozens of improvements in dBASE 5.5 are more evolutionary than revolutionary. After spending time exploring dBASE 5.0's nooks and crannies, you should be ready for version 5.5.

Visual dBASE 5.5
Price: $350
Pros: Wizard-like Experts that make creating databases easy
Cons: More revised features than new ones
Platforms: Windows 3.x, 95, NT
Borland Intl.
800-233-2444, 408-461-9000
WinMag Box Score 4