With this free Web-based app, SQL Server admins and programmers finally have a reporting tool.
Database administrators and programmers working on the Microsoft SQL Server platform have had to turn to other tools (such as Crystal Reports) for their reporting needs. But with the arrival of Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services, Redmond finally has a reporting tool to call its own.
With good customizability and a strong enterprise focus for publishing reports to users over the Web, this solution leverages the strengths of the Windows server platform very well. Reporting Services doesnt offer the cross-platform capabilities of the class-leading Crystal Reports, but the price is right: free for SQL Server 2000 users.
You need a current SQL Server license to install Reporting Services, but multidatabase enterprises will be happy to learn that the tool lets you design reports for any OLEDB- or ODBC-compliant database, not just SQL Server. We tested with a variety of data sources, including Oracle, with good success.
For distributing reports, youll need a .NET-ready installation of Windows IIS. The installer takes care of setting up virtual directories and .NET components to add reporting capabilities to your server. Youll also need your own copy of Visual Studio .NET for designing reports; unlike Crystal Reports, there is no separately included development environment for this. That said, creating reports within VS .NET is a nicely visual process, and Microsoft has done its homework by ensuring that you dont need to program to design reports.
First, a query builder (reminiscent of Microsoft Query in Excel) simplifies creating queries against your data sources. You then design reports in layout mode using a handful of controls that can be placed on a report surface by dragging and dropping from your available fields. A preview mode shows how your report will look.
The package features excellent charting abilities, and you can use many Excel-like macro functions to add calculations to fields. Another nice touch: By dragging and dropping the appropriate controls into the form (no coding required), developers can give end users the ability to search reports and perform other basic interactive tasks easily.
Overall, SQL Server Reporting Services is worth a look. Nearly the only limitation is that this is a Web-only solution. But you cant beat the price.
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Richard V. Dragan, a contributing editor of PC Magazine, has written over 250 articles and reviews for the magazine and other Ziff Davis publications since 1992. From 1994 to 1998 he authored a programming column for Computer Shopper. He has taught C++ and Windows programming at Columbia University since 1990, and Java since 1997.