I’ve always thought that Service Packs for any product were a way of fixing bugs in software after release. If a software company wanted to introduce new features, they waited until the next full or point release. When I install software, I always patch to the latest Service Pack. I normally leave any in-between patches as they can introduce more problems than they solve due to less testing.
Following installation, unless a customer had a specific problem, I would always advise not to apply a new Service Pack. The thinking being that there’s no point fixing ten bugs that aren’t causing any problems, then introducing one new bug that breaks something important. The exception to all this has been security or compatibility fixes in a Service Pack, but they’re normally solved at the operating system or application server level.
Looks like I need to change my recommendations!
Last year (2012) there were some major changes in functionality for the Crystal products introduced through Service Packs. SAP have justified this by renaming Service Pack to Minor Release but as the installer still says Service Pack, it looks like marketing have been getting involved rather than there being any technical change.
Let’s take a quick look:
Crystal Server 2011 was released at Service Pack 2. Bit of an oddity, but due to being the same platform as Business Objects Enterprise. I seem to have missed Service Pack 3 (they were released thick and fast), but Service Pack 4 fixed a lot of the problems with the migration wizard. More importantly for the purpose of this post, the add-on for Mobile Solutions was made available. This had previously been available for the higher products, but not for Crystal Server. Dreadful name for the add-0n, but just meant you could use a native app for the iPad to access your Crystal Reports. This first release was very basic, just rendering an image of the report with none of the interactivity you expect with a Crystal Report.
This lack of interactivity was fixed with the introduction of Service Pack 5. Now I can start to get excited about the iPad app as it supports drill-down, interactive parameters, search and has a proper group tree. There’s no longer a need to send complicated opendoc links to users.
Sadly, none of this has been extended to Android users yet. The current mobile solution of Android doesn’t support Crystal Reports at all. I’m sure it’s on the way, let’s just wait for Service Pack 6 or 7!
On another note, if you do decide to install a Service Pack on Crystal Server, make sure you have all your custom configuration files saved somewhere safe. They disappear when the application is redeployed to Tomcat.
Crystal Dashboard (neé Xcelsius) had some mobile functionality added recently too. It seems strange that when I first started selling Xcelsius, its big selling point was the as it was flash based, most client computers could be used to view the dashboards! This all changed with the introduction of the iPad which is lacking flash. There are two options for application developers now – HTML 5 or a native application. I’m glad to say that SAP have gone for HTML 5 which will hopefully avoid all the issues of different functionality between platforms.
We’re not quite there yet – when you save a dashboard to Crystal Server, you have the option to ‘Save for mobile’. There are currently two caveats. The first is that not all the widgets are available, so some just won’t render. The second is that not all data access options are supported. I’m frustrated that Web Services aren’t there as it prevents use of the excellent Flynet. I guess that will be introduced in the future.
Crystal Reports for Enterprise Despite my initial reservations this product is rapidly improving. Graph support when you upgrade an existing rpt file is a bit odd, but other than that, I’m getting happier with every Service Pack. Native connections to databases (the important ones) has been around for a while now. The best bit about the native connections is that they’re stored centrally when you save the report to Crystal Server. That means that when you change your database password or connection information, you only have one connection to edit rather than every report.
I still wouldn’t recommend dropping Crystal Reports 2011 yet (could we call it Crystal Classic?), but I think it’s worth examining Crystal Reports for Enterprise ready for the next release.
Crystal Reports 2011. Sorry to get you excited, but there’s nothing going on here. Yes, we’re up to Service Pack 5, but it’s just bug fixes as far as I’m aware. I’ve no doubt I’ll still be writing Crystal Reports in 5 years (that’ll make 22 years of Crystal Reports for me), but we should all be preparing for the new kid on the block – Crystal Reports for Enterprise.
Where are they then? I had a strange discussion with my account manager the other day as I was struggling to find the Service Packs for Crystal Reports 2011. The initial response was that you had to buy an upgrade to get the latest Service Pack. Seemed a bit extreme given how frequently they’re being released, and how minor some of the changes are, so I persevered.
The Crystal 2008 Service Packs are available for download at http://scn.sap.com/docs/DOC-27917
Crystal 2011 from here: http://scn.sap.com/docs/DOC-28273
Crystal Dashboard is in there somewhere too.
For Crystal Server, you need to have a current support contract, then download from support .
Needless to say, if you’re struggling with this, and you’re a customer of mine, just give me a call and I’ll sort it out for you.
To end, a big thank you to whoever was reading my blog on Christmas Day. I salute your dedication to all things Crystal. There was also a lone reader on New Year’s Day. Possibly an accident induced by a hangover, but thanks anyway.
Happy New Year!
An easier way to get data from a database into Crystal Dashboard/Xcelsius
I was first asked to look at Flynet 6 years ago – I was working for a Business Objects Partner and Flynet was being proposed as a simpler way to get data into Xcelsius (now Crystal Dashboard). I liked the product; it created the code to generate a web service, Xcelsius then connected to the web service. Much easier than working in Excel with connections to databases. More importantly, it made it easier to reuse your query across multiple dashboards.
The relationship between Flynet and BO/SAP wilted once it was made possible to connect Xcelsius to a Business Objects Universe. However, that missed the rather important point that not everyone wants or needs to go through the whole process of creating a Universe – the vast majority of Crystal Reports users never use a Universe.
So, I was very interested when my SAP account manager called me about a new relationship available between Crystal Resellers like myself and Flynet. However, I sell very little software, so I only sell stuff I can enthuse about. First I’ll explain the new offer, then I’ll give a review of the latest Flynet.
What’s the offer?
When you buy Crystal Dashboard without any of the server products, you normally buy some viewing licenses too. Otherwise you’d be limited to just viewing your own dashboards. A copy of Crystal Dashboard with 10 viewing licenses costs about £1700.
Flynet are offering a ‘DataConnect Express Bundle’ that includes licenses for 5 viewers, plus a designer, plus the necessary license for Flynet Server. All for about £1800. Roughly speaking, you swap 5 viewing licenses for a Flynet Server. Bargain!
How does it work?
First of all, forget everything you have ever done in previous versions of Flynet. The designer user interface has been completely rewritten – it’s big, bold and cut right back with no clutter at all. That doesn’t mean it’s always obvious how to do something, but you don’t have to look far! At the moment, the designer has to be installed on the same machine as the server, but separate installations are being tested, so will be along shortly.
When you first start the Designer, you’re shown the DataConnect Wiki – lots of really useful help videos. They’re not all available yet, but there’s certainly enough to get you started. I initially had problems working out how to create a database join, once I’d viewed the video, all was made clear.
There are three stages to creating your web service. Most times you’ll only need to do the 2nd and 3rd.
1) Create your database connection
Click Connections, click the big + , give a connection name, type and description, passwords if relevant, and click ‘Save’.
2) Create your query
Click Queries, click the big + , give a query name, description and select a connection. Then you can either use the wizard to select tables, joins etc, or you can just paste your SQL in. SQL functionality is far ahead of that available in Crystal Reports, allowing you to use summary functions more easily for more efficient queries.
You can preview the results of the query, finally saving.
Here’s a quick peek at a simple query that retrieves Sales by Country (click to enlarge):
3) Create your Web Service
Click Web Services, click the big + , give a name and description. Then select which of your queries will be visible – you can have multiple queries available for each web service.
Finally, just click publish.
If you change your query, you just need to click update for the web service to be kept in line with the queries.
Fire up Crystal Dashboard, select Web Service as a data source, and off you go! OK, I admit there’s a bit more to do for anything more than the simplest dashboard, but it’s a lot simpler than the alternatives. By carefully creating your queries with parameters, you can avoid having to use VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP as much. This improves both the performance and ease of maintenance of your dashboards.
Flynet’s come a long way in a short time. Not only does it allow you to easily create web services for Crystal Dashboard, it allows those web services to be easily updated as required. If you’re using Crystal Server, or Business Objects Enterprise, you need to consider whether you should use a Universe or Flynet. I prefer Flynet, but if you’ve already invested time in a Universe, then that’s probably the better options.
For those creating Dashboards without the server products, it’s a huge leap in functionality and ease of use. The cost of Flynet will soon be recouped in time savings.
How do I get an evaluation?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org and you'll be sent download links.
At the start of every quarter, SAP provide new marketing material for all us SAP Crystal Resellers. I always check through it as you get points for that, and ‘points make prizes’. After getting the points, I just get on with my work until the next quarter.
This quarter, I logged in to see the Partner Web Feed still broken, but a new ‘Best Run Office’ campaign. Sounds really tacky, but provides some useful overviews of the ever-expanding product range. Take a look, and let me know what you think. Click through the image below:
It’s long been a complaint that if you insert an image into Crystal Reports, the transparency is lost. It came up again in a support call from a customer.
Glad to say I’ve found a solution – use Crystal Dashboard/Xcelsius.
It works well too:
- Start up Crystal Dashboard, insert your various images, using the Excel model to control visibility. All the transparency settings are respected.
- Save the swf file.
- Insert the swf file into your Crystal Report.
- Clench your teeth while you fight with the data connections between Crystal and the Dashboard
- Job done.
If I get more time, I’ll try and sort out some screenshots to walk through the various steps.
When Twitter first made headlines, I was rather unimpressed – not only was I not interested in what various celebrities were having for lunch, I couldn’t see why anyone would be interested in my plate of sandwiches (cottage cheese, since you ask).
Then, I started to write this blog, and found that by posting my creation to Twitter, I could automatically notify my contacts on LinkedIn. That was when it dawned on me that Twitter is nothing more than a standard messaging protocol, more useful for passing messages between different web applications than as a product in it’s own right.
Where does Crystal Reports fit into this? One very disappointing feature in Crystal is alerting. In the standalone product, you get a pop up box listing your alerts when you run a report. For scheduled reports in Crystal Server and Business Objects Enterprise, a user has to login to see if there are any alerts – not very useful for people who are mobile or have ‘real’ work to do.
So, why don’t we combine the market-leading reporting application with the messaging power of Twitter? Users can receive alerts with the Twitter client of their choice, with the alerts being generated using trusted business reports. Even better, use the scheduling capability of of Crystal Server or Business Objects Enterprise to automate the whole process!
Security – Your Tweets don’t have to be public. Change the Twitter account to be ‘protected‘, then people have to be approved to see your Tweets. Alternatively, send a direct message to a specific user.
Limitations – there have to be some!
- You can’t post duplicate Tweets within 24 hours. If you want to notify a salesperson that Joe Bloggs has just placed an order, just add the order number or the current time to ensure it’s unique. Alternatively, just leave as is, if you don’t want the salesperson to receive the same notification twice.
- There is a limit of 250 direct messages per day and 1000 updates (tweets) per day.
How does it work?
Crystal Reports allows the formula language to be extended using ‘User Function Libraries’ (UFLs). I wrote Crystal Tweet to allow a Twitter function to be added to Crystal. Once installed, and authorised to work with your Twitter account, you can use the functions in any Crystal Report. The function (PTechCrystalTweetSendTweet) appears in the Function tree under Additional Functions, COM and .Net UFLs. Here:
The other function PTechCrystalTweetSendDirectMessage() allows you to send a direct message to another Twitter account.
All you need to do then is to add a string (plain text and/or database fields/other formulae) and off it goes.
Further information and details of how to authorise the function are over at Pursuit Technology
I’ve only really thought about using Crystal Reports & Twitter together to send company alerts. I’d love to hear of any other ideas for combining the two.
Last August, I wrote my first blog on Crystal Server 2011 giving my first impressions, I followed this up with a discussion on the merits of upgrading from Crystal Reports Server 2008 to Crystal Server 2011. I’m now sufficiently bruised and battered to give second impressions following my first migration.
I’d forgotten the details of my earlier posts, so on re-reading, I’m feeling remarkably prescient!
Here’s a comment from my First Impressions post regarding the original release already being at SP2:
“Service Pack 2?! Isn’t this fresh off the press? OK, so select customers have been running BI 4.0 since early this year, so maybe it’s a sign that this is mature software. But two service packs in 6 months? I’m glad I wasn’t running the original release.On the other hand, imagine if Microsoft release Windows 8 this time next year after a 6 month testing phase with select customers. The first shrink wrap installs as Windows 8 SP2. Imaging the howls of derision! Let’s give SAP the benefit of the doubt for now.”
Looks like I was wrong to give SAP the benefit of the doubt. Try this for a bug: It is not possible to migrate from an earlier release if there are any instances of any report that aren’t in rpt format. That’s right, read it again. If you have scheduled a report to pdf, Word, Excel or text the migration wizard will fail. It won’t just skip the bad instance, it will fail completely and not import anything. There are only 2 workarounds; delete all the rogue instances, or migrate a few folders/reports at a time. The 2nd option doesn’t really work as any non-rpt files in user’s personal folders will cause the migration to fail, and they’re seen as a dependency.
So despite an incredibly long beta program, and two Service Packs, the vast majority of existing installations won’t migrate. To make life even more difficult, it’s no longer possible to migrate by just copying instances and changing the location of the system database – you have to use the new migration wizard.
This has been fixed in the latest fix pack for the larger products, but fix packs aren’t available for Crystal Server. Smaller installations will have to wait until SP3 which is mooted for March.
Another comment from my earlier blogs:
“Minimum system requirements of 6GB RAM. That compares to 2GB for the 2008 release. From experience to date, 6GB really is the absolute minimum. I’d be more comfortable with double that, which would compare well with a typical 2008 installation with 4GB.”
Sad to say that I was 100% correct on that point. Crystal Server will install with 6GB RAM, but that’s about it. Anything more than a couple of users and memory use goes through the roof. Assume 12GB minimum, 16GB if you’re a heavy user.
And another comment:
“64 bit only. Yes, I know I mentioned this in the good stuff too, but every silver lining has a cloud. If you have an obscure ODBC driver, it’s not going to work as only 64 bit ODBC drivers will work.”
Only half right there – if you’re using classic Crystal Reports with regular connections to a database, you’ll find that the reports run as 32 bit processes, so need 32 bit database drivers. It’s only the system database that must be 64 bit, and the new meta-layer stuff.
“If you use InfoView a lot, are happy to train your users in the new BI Launch Pad, and have budget for a new server, just upgrade now.”
Really badly wrong, I’m afraid. Chances are your upgrade won’t work!
So, to upgrade or not to upgrade? SP3 should be out soon, assuming that fixes the migration problems, then work through my earlier posting to see if the upgrade is for you.
I had a call this morning from my accounts software vendor (Intuit Quickbooks Pro since you ask). They were trying to sell me the upgrade to their latest release. Nothing exceptional in that, and little to do with Crystal Server, but it did get me thinking about upgrades in general, which led me to thinking about Crystal Server 2011.
I’m mostly happy with Quickbooks. I generate invoices, monitor payments, bank accounts, sales etc. The difficulty for Intuit, is that my happiness means that I’m not about to switch to Sage or another competitor, but it also means that I’m not ready to upgrade to the newer release. It doesn’t cost much, but there’s the time involved, and an element of risk – if it messes up my data file, I can revert to backup, but if I don’t notice for a couple of months, what then? So, I carry on with 4 year old software running on a Windows XP Virtual Machine. Invoices go out, payments come in, life goes on.
Then I got to thinking about my relationship with Microsoft. I subscribe to the Partner Action Pack from them for about £300 per year. This gives me everything I need (plus more) to run my business. My PCs and laptops always have the latest release of Windows and Office – why not, I can install at my leisure and there’s no risk. However, my main server is still running Windows Small Business Server 2008 – one release behind the current SBS 2011. The difference? Risk. Upgrading SBS is not a trivial task as it involved not only your entire domain, but also your Exchange Server (Blackberry Server too in my case). It’s a lot to mess up.
Finally, we get to Crystal Server! Hand on heart, I consider Crystal Server 2011 to be the best solution to small/medium company and departmental reporting currently on the market. Anyone running the XI release or earlier needs to upgrade sharpish – the 2011 release really is that good. However, that question mark is in the title for a reason!
Let’s look at the good stuff first (this isn’t a review, plenty of other places to find one of those):
- BI Launch Pad. New release, so as ever a new name for the user web site. It still has the same failing as every previous release – when you login for the first time, it really isn’t obvious where you’re supposed to go next. That’s a training issue. However, once you’re past that first login, the ease of use is far better than any of the previous releases, with no more guessing about where right click may or may not work.
- Lifecycle Management. The improved ability to publish reports across multiple servers is great for installations with separate development, test & live servers. (Hang on, we’re talking about small companies here!)
- 64 bit, so can handle bigger data sets (Hang on, we’re talking about small companies here!)
- There’s so much good stuff in number 1, that there’s no need for more! I could have created a long list including the alerts, improved dashboards, but this isn’t a review.
Before we look at the bad stuff, let’s look at the typical usage of Crystal Reports Server 2008 (remember, we’re talking small/medium companies):
- The typical user needs the information in the reports to do their job, they’re not data analysts.
- There are a handful of office/home based workers who view reports through InfoView.
- There are a few more using SharePoint.
- The rest just receive a report in pdf format as an attachment in an email.
Now, the bad stuff:
- Minimum system requirements of 6GB RAM. That compares to 2GB for the 2008 release. From experience to date, 6GB really is the absolute minimum. I’d be more comfortable with double that, which would compare well with a typical 2008 installation with 4GB.
- 64 bit only. Yes, I know I mentioned this in the good stuff too, but every silver lining has a cloud. If you have an obscure ODBC driver, it’s not going to work as only 64 bit ODBC drivers will work.
- New hardware. Combining 1 & 2, chances are you’ll need new hardware. A lot of small companies reuse an old server for their reporting server (lots of overnight scheduling), not this time.
- No support for IIS (Microsoft’s web server). Not a bad thing in it’s own right, but it does make configuring security with Active Directory more long winded and more complex – Kerberos isn’t for the faint hearted. My understanding is that this isn’t a temporary situation as in the previous two releases where the initial release had no IIS support.
- Nothing new in Crystal Reports 2011. OK, not quite true, but near enough. The effort has gone into the new Crystal Reports for Enterprise, which isn’t as functional yet. For a typical installation it will remain unused.
So what does all this mean for our typical users mentioned above? For the user with InfoView, they’ll need training and it’s change. In the end, they view the same reports. For the SharePoint user, they probably won’t notice the difference either. For those receiving reports by email, no difference.
Before coming to any decision, you need to consider my two friends from the start of this article; risk & cost. If you currently have a support contract, the ‘only’ cost is installation and training. Risk should be low, unless you do an in-place upgrade (just don’t).
To upgrade or not then. Doesn’t sound too positive so far, does it? It really depends upon how well you fit into my typical user description, and whether or not upgrade should be the only question:
- If you use InfoView a lot, are happy to train your users in the new BI Launch Pad, and have budget for a new server, just upgrade now.
- If you use mostly SharePoint or a similar portal, find out what more can be done. This is the advert bit – give me a call to discuss improving SharePoint integration, you can manage licenses better and have a seamless interface.
- If you’re just emailing reports as pdf, you’re really not going to notice any difference. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything though! Get some training or consultancy to see how much more you could be doing – you could surprise yourself and even improve the way you do business. At the very least, you’ll get better value out of your existing software investment.
Perhaps I’ll even attend a Quickbooks training course and work out how to get profit by rep rather than just by customer. I hope the Quickbooks salesman isn’t reading this.