Product Review: SoftArtisans WordWriter
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Published: 25 Sep 2003
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Abstract
Create customized reporting solutions with this powerful product from SoftArtisans
by Anand Narayanaswamy
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Product Review
SoftArtisans WordWriter
Reviewer: Anand Narayanaswamy

Company Info

SoftArtisans
1330 Beacon Street
Suite 400
Brookline, MA 02446

sales@softartisans.com 
www.softartisans.com

Pricing & Licensing

Standard Edition: $1495.00
Special Price: $895.00
(For 1-2 CPUs)

About the Author

Anand Narayanaswamy is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional in Visual C# and an independent consultant based in Trivandrum, India. Anand runs learnXpress.com and specializes in ASP, ASP.NET, C#, Visual Basic .NET and Visual Basic 6.0 and in the development of courseware, technical articles, documentation, and reviews of products and books. He is available for writing documentations, help files and product reviews. Reach him at ananddotnet@yahoo.co.in 

Developers are always on a look out for powerful products for producing documents over the web and users were keenly waiting to explore and use them. Prior to .NET, developers faced lot of difficulties for the creation of documents and reports over the web. There were no concrete products for producing them based on User Input. Visual Basic 6.0 came with a reporting tool called DataReport but it can’t be used for web-based environments. Active Server Pages combined with HTML provided some functionality, but still users faced difficulties for saving the generated output on their systems. With the evolution of .NET, the whole scenario has completely changed. Visual Studio .NET ships with a reporting tool called Crystal Reports, but it lacks major features like auto generation of reports in Microsoft Word.

These difficulties are completely eliminated with the introduction of WordWriter by SoftArtisans. Headquartered in Boston, MA, USA, SoftArtisans had already developed lot of powerful products or components for .NET and Java and I must say that WordWriter 1.0 is an another feather in their cap. The product comes in two versions - Java and .NET. This review focuses on the .NET version of WordWriter.

WordWriter is a high performance .NET assembly which opens, modifies and delivers native Microsoft Word documents over the Web. The product uses data from an existing Word file or template. In addition to this, WordWriter requires a data source. The data source can be an array or a database. An interesting factor which I noticed is that it uses few lines of code to generate editable, presentation-quality documents. Moreover, you can save the document instantly and the product preserves all the features associated with Word documents like formatting, styles, graphics and VBAs. It is also easy to use a database as a data source because WordWriter uses one-step database integration. You can access the WordWriter’s Development Guide at http://officewriter.softartisans.com/default.aspx?PageID=196

A key feature of this product is that the output is generated on the server and Microsoft Word is not required on the Web server to view the generated output. Hence, the product will have licensing flexibility and you can deploy your applications without worries. WordWriter also supports multilingual environments and hence you can deploy the applications seamlessly without any concerns about the language settings. The vendor claims that the familiarity of Microsoft Word and the interconnectivity of the web enable WordWriter to make a dramatic impact on the distribution of information across an enterprise.

It also tightly integrates with WebForm controls and the product is built upon a simple and intuitive object model. Hence, you can use WordWriter to create and distribute customized reports. The generated Word file can be saved to your hard disk. You can also open it with your browser. But I noticed that the product supports Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 and above or Netscape Navigator 4.5 or later. I don’t think the browser issue will be a big problem since most of the users are now using IE 5.0 or higher versions. The server should be running under Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows 2003 with the .NET Framework and J# redistributable packages. The client system should have any latest versions of Microsoft Word. The client can also use Microsoft Word Viewer, but it is not possible to modify the output generated by the WordWriter with the viewer. WordWriter can also be used with Classic ASP. You will get more information regarding this from the documentation which comes with the product. The vendor’s web site contains a separate section called Tips and Tricks and it can be accessed at http://support.softartisans.com/kbview.aspx?show=tips 

I didn’t experience any difficulty with the installation and to work with this product. I tested the product with Notepad, but you can also use Visual Studio .NET. If you use Notepad, you have to copy the WordWriter.DLL from the installation directory to the bin folder inside Inetpub/wwwroot directory. If the Bin directory doesn’t exist you can create it. If you use Visual Studio .NET, you have to add a reference of this DLL to your project. If you are using this product for the first time, I recommend reusing the sample program which came with the product. Before making any modifications to the ASPX file, you have to create a template using Microsoft Word. It can be done by merging fields via Insert | Field menu. I suggest reading the quick-start tutorial first since it explains this process in detail.

The product comes in an evaluation version with a 30-day license. The vendor claims that the product expires on the last day of each month. I think they have created a good algorithm to enable the trial functionality. In order to download the product you have to give your email address. The vendor immediately sends you an e-mail containing the download instructions. One of the most disappointing factors with this product is that the size of download file is very huge. It comes around 18 MB and the WordWriter is shipped with ExcelWriter also. I wonder why the vendor didn’t provided separate installation downloads for both these products. If they had provided like that then the users without broadband connectivity could easily download the product and in less time. It took around one hour for me to download the product with a broadband net connection. I strongly suggest you to install Download Accelerator before downloading this product since it will marginally reduce the download time. The product worked very well with Microsoft Word 2003.

The product ships with a good piece of documentation. It is divided into several sections like Features in Depth, Samples etc. I liked the samples section since it provides several demonstrations in both Visual Basic .NET and C#. Moreover, the execution steps are clearly detailed in boxes. The documentation includes a quick-start tutorial which explains how to work with the product along with the relevant screenshots. It also comes with a programmer’s reference and other tidbits. Also it is in HTML Help Format – a version which I like the most. I noticed that all sample programs are nicely organized in folders and are well commented with short descriptions as well. This will surely help developers a lot. You can also directly open the installation folder from the start menu. You can know more details about the product from its home page at http://officewriter.softartisans.com/default.aspx?PageID=189

 



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