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Crystal Reports 2011 for Developers

Book Review of: Crystal Reports 2011 for Developers

Report Design and Integration

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Review of Crystal Reports 2011 for Developers, by Cynthia Moore (Hardcover, 2011)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


At 466 pages (plus a 26-page appendix), this book is predictably thorough. Something any reader will notice while reading it is the large number of screenshots. While we've grown used to seeing screenshots in books about Crystal Reports or other software, I think this book makes especially good use of them. It also includes other helpful graphics.

As with any other book on Crystal Reports, the author assumes the reader understands some basics about business reports. That's a good assumption, as somebody without that understanding should not be designing reports. And the author provides some good tips on making those reports best serve their purpose.

The author also assumes a computer competence level that I find quite reasonable for anyone who would be reading this book. So, there's no page space wasted on telling you how to save a file. Have you noticed books that do this also make a sudden jump in skill level to assume you are a database expert and you can whip out a VB script left-handed and blindfolded while simultaneously writing code in .net with the right hand?

Yes, I exaggerate a bit, but some books have left me frustrated after boring me to tears through 18 pages of how to open a file in Windows Explorer and then suddenly assuming the reader has all these ancillary skills that probably only 1 senior programmer in 1,000 has. This reminds me of an actual Chrysler service manual from the 1960s that listed Step 1 as "Remove engine." Why that kind of thing keeps cropping up, I have no idea. But I'm glad it did not crop up in this book.

Unfortunately, the lingo in the trade uses the term "developer" to mean the person designing the report. Most report designers are really end-users, not developers in the traditional sense. I'm glad Ms. Moore "gets it" in this regard. She's produced a very useful book, as a result.

My company sells third-party tools, such as viewers and schedulers, for Crystal Reports. I've edited all kinds of articles for the Crystalkeen Website and routinely do first-level tech support. But ask me to design a report, and I will find a reason not to (the dog ate my mouse).

So I laughed aloud when Ms. Moore said, on the first page of the Introduction, that she's found many people who are intimidated by Crystal Reports or quickly decide they don't like it. That's pretty much my own attitude. Unlike my associates (who truly are developers), I just don't enjoy report design. It's just me, I guess. I don't like mucking around in databases, either. Consider MySQL, for example. A great tool. But I don't get all happy while using it. That said, my company also sells a great SQL command processor.

Like anything else, good report design takes practice. You aren't going to whip out great reports right off the bat. However, Crystal Reports is making that whole process much easier and less time-consuming. Like any powerful software application, it tends to make the casual or first-time user feel overwhelmed. That's where a book like this really earns its keep. It can help you establish a framework for doing reports efficiently and with much less stress.

Experienced users will probably find this book helps them expand their existing repertoire. Something that I've seen over the years also is people who've been creating reports for a long time make mistakes they aren't aware of. A good read of this book, followed by some effort to learn the correct way, will save these people hours of troubleshooting and frustration. Ms. Moore makes it easy to follow along, and I think as a reference book it would not be hard to locate what you need at the moment.

This book consists of two Parts and an Appendix.

Part I consists of the first 12 chapters. The first 10 of these walk you through using Crystal Reports. Chapter 1 is an introduction and overview. Chapter 2 is "Getting Started." The next eight chapters are themed around specific operations, such as creating a report, formatting a report, and filtering data.

The last two chapters of Part I are really for more advanced users. They are an introduction to .Net Visual Studio and an introduction to Crystal Reports for Eclipse.

Part II is an introduction to Crystal Reports for Enterprise XI 4.0. Unless your company shelled out the bucks for the Enterprise software, or is planning to, Part II probably won't apply to you. Which is why, I think, this material is set off a bit from the rest of the book.

The Index is a reference on formula functions. I was impressed just at the fact it was included. Readers and users of this book will be pleased with how well it was done.

Crystal Reports keeps evolving. To provide the best reporting experience for report users at your company, you must continually avail yourself of online articles, user groups, third-party tools, and books like this one. If you stand still, you fall behind and become vulnerable to job loss or other career setbacks. So, stay informed and keep sharpening your Crystal Reports skill set. Consider this book a good whetstone.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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