SAP Crystal Dashboard Design 2011 – Portfolio Update #4

SAP Crystal Server 2011 – Update #6

Question: How do you execute a complete rewrite of the worlds leading reporting tool to ensure it’s viable for another 20 years?

Answer: Very carefully.

The Crystal Reports codebase has proven to be very reliable and valuable to our customers over the last 19 years since we released version 1.  I’m sure there’s code in there today that was first released in that original version back in 1992 for 16-bit Windows.

However this is software, and development standards evolve, get better, and help developers be more productive.  Products stuck on older code bases cannot keep up with new entrants on more modern and productive code bases.  These products simply fade away as they fail to keep up with the rate of innovation that’s possible with more modern development standards.

We are determined not to let that happen with SAP Crystal Reports.

The ‘Small Ball’ Strategy

So over the last 7 years, we’ve been effectively building 2 versions of SAP Crystal Reports – the C++ stack with all the bells and whistles that’s sold to our valued customers, while investing in our ‘next gen’ stack.  We used a strategy I called ‘small-ball’ – in reference to how baseball teams can be effective using singles, stolen bases, and bunts.  We wanted to avoid a risky big-bang migration where we might get something to market early, but spend the next 3 years issuing service packs to address issues instead of innovating.

With small-ball, we used smaller releases like SAP Crystal Reports for Eclipse and the Crystal Reports Viewer to validate our engineering, learn from real-world experience, and always move forward toward that goal of bringing next generation Crystal Reports to market.

Now that our next gen product (SAP Crystal Reports for enterprise) is surfacing publically on blogs and in products like BI 4.0, I thought it was time to share some of the interesting roadmap decisions that have happened behind the scenes.

The Evolution of Next-Gen Crystal Reports

The next-gen stack is based on Java, and got its start in 2004 with the Java Runtime Component (JRC) that was part of version 10.  At that time, it was a simple runtime engine to execute reports authored with CR 10.

In 2006 we built on that base and created Crystal Reports for Eclipse 1.0.  This took the JRC and added a basic report design tool.  It was this release where we adopted the SWT programming model in Eclipse for our next get stack, and the fabulous Eclipse plugin architecture.  We got the confidence that we could efficiently build a report designer using this technology.

In 2008 we delivered CR for Eclipse 2.0, adding editable preview.  We also delivered the Crystal Reports Viewer as a free download.  This was a key milestone as we got confidence that we can render RPT files just as accurately in the next gen stack as we do in the C++ stack.  We used these products to improve the performance and compatibility aspects of the next gen stack.

SAP Crystal Reports in SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0

Finally we had the confidence in the next gen stack that we could make the jump to our paying products.  In the design stage of the BI 4.0 release, we knew that the jump from CR for Eclipse 2.0 to a product that does everything that CR 2008 does for both the volume and enteprise market was too big. So we focused on the needs of Enterprise customers because we have a better ability to service them through our maintenance offerings.  Plus there’s a natural way to narrow the scope of the release if we’re going to focus on enterprise-only solutions.  We’d limit data access in the BI 4.0 release to Universes only.  This would allow our developers to focus on creating great Universe based data access and correcting a longstanding weakness in Crystal Reports.  Direct to data access would not be going away – we’d still have Crystal Reports 2011 for that, plus we’d plan to restore it on the next gen stack in a point release.

Along the way we got important validation of our early design choice of SWT/Eclipse as the platform for our next gen stack, as the new Information Design Tool (for editing next gen Universes) also adopted the same architecture.

Now that BI 4.0 is done (from a development perspective – it’s still in rampup as I write this), we can look ahead to 4.1 and 4.2 where we will be addressing the compromises we had to make in 4.0.  In these forthcoing point releases, we’ll be building direct to data access, public APIs, and creating a scalable runtime engine solution that will allow for deployments outside of the BI Platform 4.x.

If you’re a volume customer (ie… purchase through resellers or our eStore) and looking at CR 2011 you’re probably a bit disappointed that there isn’t more.  The reason isn’t because we don’t place a priority on volume customers – it’s actually the opposite. 

The volume market is the most demanding market there is.  Volume customers expect great, intuitive usability, APIs, and fast component runtime deployments without having to go through a big enterprise sales cycle, or pay for annual maintenance.  In the volume business, there isn’t a small army of friendly account executives and solutions consultants to talk through product issues.  The product must work the first time.  Its for these reasons that we’re starting this rollout with server software that’s commonly used by larger customers.

Looking Ahead

The 4.x platform will be the platform of continuous innovation of the next gen stack.  Major features will be added with each point release, and we will deliver next gen technology to the volume market using this 4.x platform as a foundation.  Initially, customers of the BI Platform 4.0, Edge BI 4.0, and SAP Crystal Server 2011 will have access to the next gen report design tool – called ‘Crystal Reports for enterprise’.

If you want a taste of the innovation this modernization will provide, check out this great video by our user experience team on the Smart Guidelines feature in the next gen design tool.

I know that things look a little weird right now – with 2 Crystal Reports products in the 4.0 stack – one called SAP Crystal Reports 2011 and the next gen product called SAP Crystal Reports for enteprise.  Be assured this is a temporary situation.

Once we’ve met the key volume requirements to the next gen tool – like direct to data access, a component runtime engine, and an API – we plan to release next gen Crystal Reports to all our channels and direct 100% of our efforts to innovating on this modern platform for your benefit.  We expect that this release will include an extended beta program to ensure its success.

Once it’s GA, we’ll then revert to using the next-gen stack as the single version of Crystal Reports for simplicity and clarity.  Whether next-gen Crystal Reports is Crystal Reports 2012 or 2013, I can’t say for sure now. 

If we can execute on this (and I have no doubt that we can), we’ll have pulled off a rare feat in software – renewing the underlying technology of a market leading product, so we’re not just the oldest and best known reporting tool, but also the most modern and innovative.

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  1. Carlos Cantu
    Thanks for sharing the roadmap. As a Crystal Reports Developer I am glad to know that the future seems quite good for this tool.
  2. Angela Meharg
    I first found out about Seagate Software and Crystal in 1994, and joined the Tech Support team in 1996 after earning a diploma in Computer Systems Management. Left to become a freelance CR developer in 1998, and have never looked back. Thanks for making an international career for me that looks to continue for a long time!
    1. Blair Wheadon Post author
      Hi Meenakshi,

      From this blog entry you can see that we’re creating a foundation for innovation that will allow us to release new features faster and with high quality for a long time in the future.

      If you’d like to have a positive influence over the direction of Crystal Reports I suggest you log your  feature ideas at the Idea Place:

      Thanks, Blair

      1. Meenakshi Sundara Santhosh
        Yes I liked that. But my only worry is when other competitors are releasing new products with a lots o features(I meant SSRS R2). You could have released atleast with 10 new features. If there is no release at this time also no problem. since we already waited for 3 years for this release. we were ready to wait for some more months/years.
        Thats were we all are disappointed.
  3. Dianne Dawson
    Are Business Views going away?  If not, will the administration abiilities be improved?  All of our reports are Business View based.  It would be a major resource-consuming task if we didn’t have Business Views.
    1. Blair Wheadon Post author
      Hi Dianne,

      Business Views continue to be supported in this release of Crystal Server, however our strategic direction for semantic layer is to adopt Universes.  Given this, we are not enhancing Business Views in Crystal Server 2011.  We are asking all customers with Business Views to use the 2011 release to  transition them to Universes.

      Universes are used by all client tools supported by Crystal Server 2011 – Crystal Reports for enterprise, Dashboard Design, and Explorer.

      The next major release of Crystal Server after the 2011 version is unlikely to include Business Views.

      Thanks, Blair

        1. Blair Wheadon Post author
          Hi Dianne – to confirm, all the BusinessObjects servers – Crystal Server, BusinessObjects Edge BI, and BusinessObjects Enterprise are on the same roadmap for transitioning from Business Views to Universes.  So you can continue to use you BV’s in the BI Platform 4.0, but it’s likely we won’t support BV’s in the BI Platform 5.0.  Thanks, Blair
  4. Andrew Baines
    Interesting that you say this roadmap was planned 7 years ago. Back then client side Java still looked promising. Now it’s just a pain of constant Java updates and inconsistent user interfaces. Even the Java viewer in Enterprise has gradually been dropped.
    First customer I mentioned this too said, “Java – that’s a step backwards”.
    If you had planned this, say, 5 years ago, you’d have probably gone for Flash.
    If you were to take another look today, you’d go straight for HTML 5.

    Keep Java where it belongs (server side), and think again (please).

    1. Blair Wheadon Post author
      There are 2 ways to do client side Java – using the Swing library (the one that you’re thinking about) which creates weird looking UI’s that just scream “Look at me I’m a Java app”, or the SWT library (the one that we’ve used).

      SWT maps Java calls to platform specific functions.  So the file open dialog on Windows looks like the standard Windows file open dialog.

      We did this because we share the same concern as you – the Java applet and Swing UI experience was poor.  We’ve also black-boxed the JVM, so you won’t get bombarded with update notifications.

      I bet 99% of customers won’t even notice this is a Java app.  If you want to see an example of what I’m talking about, check out the SAP Crystal Viewer – it uses the same technology and is available for download for free here:

      1. Henry Hood
        I’m been scouring your website for the SAP Crystal 2011 viewer to no avail.   Seeing your link in this post gave me hope, BUT when I clicked on download the viewer it was the 2008 Crystal Viewer.

        I’ve read in your website that there is a 2011 viewer but no where can I locate the download link. 

        Is there a valid link to download the SAP Crystal 2011 viewer?

          1. Henry Hood
            Excellent, then I’m not losing my mind after all, that’s good to know. 

            Any ETA on the viewer?

            If I limit functionality to 2008 level will the 2011 reports be viewable in the 2008 viewer?

            1. Andrew Baines
              If you find a new feature in 2011, post it here – I’m sure everyone else is interested too 😉
              More seriously, the only benefits will be the new read only report files, new export format and the ability to remove certain export formats.
              No eta at the moment – it’s free software, so it does tend to wait until I’m quiet.
              Thanks for the interest though.
              I always upload to first, so you can subscribe to updates on rptView for Crystal Reports there.
  5. Susan O'Brien
    We currently use Crystal Reports 2008 and BOE XI 3.1, mostly with Oracle dbs (PeopleSoft). Are you saying that in order to schedule reports in InfoView, we will have to create Universes instead of creating our reports directly against Oracle?
    1. Blair Wheadon Post author
      No, that’s not the message.  I’ll do a separate post on compatibility and coexistence to clarify this.  But everything you’re doing today can be migrated forward to the 4.0/2011 platform without change.  You’d use Crystal Reports 2011 and the BI Platform 4.0 to access Oracle directly. 

      However also on the same platform we’re offering the next generation designer and engine I described above.  If you choose, you can use this new reporting stack in 4.0 when it requires a Universe data connection, or you can adopt it in a future point release when we restore support for direct to data connections.  Either way, there’s nothing stopping customers like yourself from adopting 4.0 immediately and using CR 2011 and its associated processing engine.

      Hope that helps.  Blair

  6. Raghavan Giridharan
    Thanks for sharing the roadmap. I have been developing on CR since Ver 8.5 through 2011.
    It will be very helpful if the forums for java is monitored and questions answered frequently. I feel the server side java library for CR 2011 is still yet to stabilize with a few bugs [or can it be because of lack of proper documentation ?]
    For example, some of the queries like Cross tab with Java and JNDI queries remain un-answered for months.
    CR 2011 – JDBC Report Issue in passing parameters
    Issue with passing parameters through Java-JSP in a report with cross tab

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