Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Has anyone used Data Dynamics Reports?

We currently use ActiveReports (by Data Dynamics, now Grape City) for canned reports, but are considering moving up to their Reports package. If you've used it, I'd love to hear your take on:

  • Performance - do you feel it will scale well for a web based app (particularly compared with ActiveReports)
  • Export to Excel - it appears to provide a much cleaner export to Excel (ActiveReports' Excel export is awful, our biggest reason for considering a switch)
  • Other pros/cons (my company is pretty small, the $3,000 for 2 licenses is a lot for us)

Thanks for your feedback!

From stackoverflow
  • I've only used ActiveReports as well, but their web licensing model is a bit expensive in general in my view, espeically if you need to develop multiple apps on multiple servers. Then there is the per developer costs as well.

    I use DevXpress XtraReports and have been fairly happy with it so far and it has some fairly decent export functionality and a much better licensing model.

    Regarding export to Excel, I've not seen any reporting tool do it well, mainly due to the formatting issues with the report itself. What we typically do is provide the formatted report to the user, along with an additional link for an Excel export which is a similar but different query with the raw data the report uses.

    Another option over formatted printable reports is using grids such as Infragistics which allow you to do sorting, grouping, summaries, and which has excellent Excel export features.

  • Here are some additional information for you to consider about ActiveReports & Data Dynamics Reports:

    ActiveReports Licensing:

    There license is per developer. There are no royalties. You can write as many applications as you want and deploy your application to as many users or as many servers as you want without any additional costs. Read the ActiveReports License agreement here.

    Reporting to Excel:

    First of all, schooner is absolutely correct that all the other reporting tools have a poor scenario when exporting to excel. We recognized the same after many years of experience with ActiveReports. Frankly, it is a very hard problem to take reports designed to be paginated or deployed on the web and put them into a cell-based layout of a spreadsheet.

    However, with Data Dynamics Reports', we took a completely different approach. Instead of creating just another "export to Excel", where we look at "paginated" report output and try to fit it into a spreadsheet somehow, we generate the excel output based on two things: A template and the actual data in the report. By using a template, which is actually a specially formatted excel sheet (cells have some special place holders in them) the reporting engine can output the report's content to an excel sheet completely independent of how the report is laid out when paginated. We call this concept a "Transformation Extension" for Excel since it takes the report's content and transforms it to excel based on a template.

    By default DDReports will generate a default template that you will find more often than not has pretty good output. However, if the excel output is not what you want, you can instruct DDReports to save the template so you can customize the output in excel.

    The best way to get an introduction to this is to watch the screencast for the Excel Transformation Extension in Data Dynamics Reports here. Jump to about 1:20 in the screencast if you impatient and see an example of a simple template. Keep in mind this is a very simple template and the possibilities are much more sophisticated. Unfortunately, thus far we haven't published very good documentation on using the excel transformation extension template syntax yet, but let me know if you have questions and I'll help you out! Just comment on this post or send an email to our support team.

    Scott Willeke

    Data Dynamics / GrapeCity

    Jess : Hey Scott, thanks a ton for your reply! We definitely like the Excel output features of DDReports ... but will DDReports have similar high volume performance to ActiveReports? We'll be running a few hundred thousand reports per week off of a single server ... thanks!
    scott : Yes, DD Reports' is designed for high volume loads, especially on the server. However, the engine in DDR and AR are different so each engine will have different performance behaviors under different reports, but on the server I think you'll find DDRs performance good. If not, let me know.
  • We use both products and they are quite different from each other. I have been a long time user of Active Reports and have loved them. But when it came time to select a .net reporting tool we did not want to spend a bunch of $$ so we decised to get their DDR product. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to it as I kept trying to use it like Active Reports. Not a good idea. Anyways, once you get used to it it does a decent job. there are some things that they need to do to improve the product. Here are the things that stand out.

    1. You cannot access the control collection in the code area. This is a huge problem if you want to change anything like data binding inside the report.

    2. The database connection have to be refreshed if you repopen the report int he designer. This took a while to figure out and we wondered why our fields would not show up in the preview mode when re reloaded the report.

    3. Their new tech support is terrable. They were bought out recently and now when you call tech supprt you get someone tht has no knowledge that always tells you that someone will call you back. 80% of the time you get no call back. The otehr 20% of the time you get a sample emaild to you that has nothing to do with your issue. Now this is accorss the board with both products. THey used to have great tech support. I hope they fix this.

    Those are the main problems and I know they are workign to solve the issues. Like i said we use boh DDR and Active Reports. If you need to do complicated reports stick with Active Reports. If they are simple and you do not want to spend a lto fo money then DDR works fine. I see DDR getting better with each release but it will take a while to get the knks worked out.

    Just my opinion

  • This is to give more information to Bill's response in this thread. I tried to post a comment, but ran out of room :)

    Bill Thanks for your honest assessment. Let me give some comments for you from the inside on the issues you mentioned:

    1: Admittedly it is not quite as intuitive to access the controls collection as it was with AR, but you /can/ do it. You need to do it outside of the report (not in the script/code embedded into the report). To do it you can load the rdlx file in a ReportDefinition object. For example:

    var rpt = new DataDynamics.Reports.ReportDefinition(new FileInfo("myfile...rdlx"));
    var list = (DataDynamics.Reports.ReportObjectModel.List)rpt.Report.Body.ReportItems["myList"];
    var txt = (DataDynamics.Reports.ReportObjectModel.TextBox)list.ReportItems["myTextBox"];
    txt.Value = "=Fields!MyField.Value";

    However, depending on the scenario you're after there may be a better way to handle this than changing the binding on the control/reportItem itself. It is difficult to say more without knowing more about your particular scenario/goals.

    2: There was recently some discussion I was involved in on how to improve this in the very near future. The dev team was gathering use cases and doing some investigation on various caching strategies to keep hitting the database to an absolutely minimum in the designer. So look for improvements in this area in an upcoming build.

    3: Unfortunately, we're working through some challenges with our new technical support team. However, we are improving constantly and we're working hard to bring up the new guys as quickly as possible. If you have a problem with one of your incidents with support feel free to email me personally with your case number and I'll work to try get your case escalated or help out in any way I can (scott dot willeke at grapecity dot com).

    Thanks again for your feedback, my next letter is an internal one based on your feedback to help us improve!

    Scott Willeke
    Program Manager
    Data Dynamics / GrapeCity inc.


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