What Visual Studio Developers Should Know About Crystal Reports 2008
 
Published: 28 Jan 2008
Abstract
Crystal Reports 2008 was released in October 2007. This article (written in Jan 08) explains the ins and outs of the CR2008 versions, integration with VS versions, side-by-side compatibility, upgrading reports and general features of interest to Visual Studio Developers.
by Julia Lerman
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Introduction

Note that this was written in January 2008. Changes to Crystal Reports 2008 are expected that will impact the validity of some of the findings in this article in the future.

In October 2007, Business Objects released the latest version of Crystal Reports, called Crystal Reports 2008.

The new version of Crystal Reports does have some very cool features. While the sexiest features are the integration of Adobe Flex, Flash and Xcelsius charts, as a developer, I am more interested in the pragmatic enhancements, such as the ability for end users to do things like sorting and easily modify report parameters, the smaller footprint of the runtime that we have to deploy and design time improvements, such as an Intellisense-like feature when working in the formula builder that help me out.

There is a lot of documentation on the Business Objects website explaining and demonstrating the new features.

Crystal Reports 2008 and Visual Studio Integration

Visual Studio 2008 and "Crystal Reports 2008 Basic" - not much new

Visual Studio 2008 Professional includes "Crystal Reports 2008 Basic." The Standard and Express versions of VS2008 do not include the bundled Crystal Reports.

 "Crystal Reports 2008 Basic" is quite different than "Crystal Reports 2008." The Basic version has the same feature set as the previous version (that was embedded into Visual Studio 2005). In fact, if you look at Crystal Reports section of the Visual Studio MSDN documentation (Development Tools and Langauges/Visual Studio/ Tools and Features/Crystal Reports), the list of "What's New" is as follows:

·         ClickOnce deployment supports the HomeSite attribute and is now available for x64 bit machines.

·         Crystal Reports Basic for Visual Studio 2008 supports both Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.

·         Support for the .Net 3.5 Framework.

Crystal Reports 2008 Upgrade

So where are all of the new features? They are in the commercial version of Crystal Reports 2008 which is a $295 upgrade.

Since the licensing has changed dramatically, there is only one version of Crystal Reports 2008 which lets you use the standalone package as well as the integrated design tools in Visual Studio. Previously, there were a variety of licensing options to sort out and choose from and I think simplifying and having just one license was a great strategy for Business Objects.

Visual Studio 2008 Integration - not quite yet

Crystal Reports 2008 does not yet integrate with Visual Studio 2008 but an upcoming update will provide this integration. You will need to watch the Business Objects website for more information on this. Although Visual Studio 2008 is currently available through MSDN, it will not be officially released until Feb 28, 2008 so this minor setback probably does not impact a huge number of developers.

Visual Studio 2003 and Visual Studio 2005 - yes you can

Crystal Reports 2008 does integrate with Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2003. I still have VS2005 on my development machine, so I have been able to at least get started learning the new features.

 

Features Available in Standalone vs. Features in Embedded

There are some helpful walk-throughs for getting started with new features in the Reviewer's Guide document on the Crystal Reports 2008 area of Business Object's website. I used this as a guide to check out some of the design features while in Visual Studio 2005. I was unable to follow the steps to use the Sort control, so went out to the standalone CR2008 app and that worked just fine. It turns out that not every one of the new designer features will be found when you use the embedded version of the designer. But you can easily use your report both in Visual Studio and in the standalone designer (where all of the design features exist) to get all of the benefits. Business Objects actually recommends using the standalone designer for doing the heavy lifting of designing the report, then using the embedded designer for testing and tweaking. Many developers who use Crystal heavily have subscribed to this method for a long time.

Report Compatibility

Business Objects has an impressive looking matrix about report compatibility on their website. It can be a little daunting. Here are the highlights for Visual Studio developers.

Reports built with the previous versions of Crystal Reports that were bundled with Visual Studio (2002, 2003 and 2005) will be compatible with Crystal Reports 2008 Basic that is built into Visual Studio 2008. And those older reports will port over to Crystal Reports 2008. However, and this is important to be aware of, Crystal Reports 2008 reports will not port to Crystal Reports Basic. According to Business Objects: “One can upgrade from Crystal Reports Basic to Crystal Reports 2008 but it is not possible to go the other way. Even though Crystal Reports Basic was released after Crystal Reports 2008, one cannot upgrade to a Crystal Reports Basic project as this would break the edition subset rule.” Translation: if you create a report in the standalone designer, you won’t be able to work with it in the embedded designer in Visual Studio.

You can see the detailed information about report compatibility in this Business Objects blog: What is the Crystal Reports ‘Basic’ edition?

After installing Crystal Reports 2008, I opened up a report intensive Windows Forms application in Visual Studio 2005 and was greeted by this conversion wizard.

Figure 1

I did not find that my Crystal Report files were backed up, but there was a backup of the project file. This is because the references of the project were modified. I recommend manually backing up the rpt files in your solution.

I ran a simple report and it was fine. I then tried to run a very complex and data intensive report and did have a small heart palpitation when I got an error message telling me that "the request could not be submitted for background processing." As far as I know, this is Crystal's "unhandled exception" message and there are a number of solutions you can find on the web that will work if you happen to have the same underlying problem as that particular developer. Crystal Support doggedly worked with me until they were finally able to duplicate the problem which seems to be a special scenario and they are working on a bug fix. Unfortunately, I have still been unable to fix that report, but expect that I will eventually be able to discover the root cause of the problem or just rebuild it in CR2008 and will just rebuild it in the meantime.

If you make a change to an existing report and save it, you will get a notification that the report is about to be updated to a newer version and cannot be reverted.

Side by Side Installation

I have Visual Studio 2008 and Visual Studio on the same computer. After installing the Crystal Reports 2008 upgrade (30 day trial), I had CR2008 Basic in VS2008 and CR2008 was now the version embedded into Visual Studio 2005.

You can choose to open a solution without converting. Saving changes to the report does not seem to force a report upgrade.

Smaller Deployment Footprint

One of the improvements touted on the website is that the size of the deployment file is smaller. That is an understatement. It is 60% smaller! The size of the .NET Merge Modules for CR XI Release 2 is 162 MB. The .NET Merge Modules for CR 2008 is 69MB.

A 30-Day Trial

You can get a 30-day trial from Business Object's website. After registering and downloading, you will get an email that has a license key in it. I mention the email because I ignored the email (assuming it was just a "thanks for downloading" message, and spent 10 minutes scratching my head when I was asked for a key during the installation. The download is quite large at 350MB.

My choice for killer feature

I have not played with the Flash and XCelsius toys yet, but I have spent a good deal of time using the interactive parameter panel. I think that the ability to let my users interact with the reports through this parameter panel is the feature that really makes me want to upgrade to the newer version of Crystal Reports. I plan to write an article on using the parameter panel in the near future.

Conclusion

The embedded designer that comes bundled in Visual Studio 2008 is basically the same tool that was embedded in Visual Studio 2005. There are a lot of new features that in my opinion, make shelling out the $250 to upgrade worth the investment. If you are using Visual Studio 2008, you could get it now, and only use the standalone designer; otherwise, if you want the integrated designer, you may want to wait a few months (my guess) for the update.

 

 



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