Q. We are at the point of deciding between crystal and Active reports. What are your thoughts? And, can you recommend a consultant to help kick start us?

Asked by Steven Platti. Answered by the Wonk on March 18, 2003


While I don't have any experience with the Crystal or Active reporting products, I can tell you the procedure I go through when choosing a hunk of software:

  1. Define my requirements. What exactly do I need from this software? What would be nice to have? How much am I willing to pay before I build it and maintain my own custom hunk of software?
  2. Survey the field. What products are available in my product category? Which ones list my requirements in their feature set? What's the pricing? What's the redistribution license? Lots of times, I can't get what I need in this category of information from a web site or a brocure, so I put my questions into email for the product's customer service. If they don't respond in a timely or helpful manner, that's important information to have, too.
  3. Ask my friends. I use related mailing lists to ask for opinions from developers that have experience. If lots of folks says "rock" or "sucks" about a specific product, that really helps me decide.
  4. Try out the evaluation copies. For each product that I think meets my requirements, I spend some time and try to use each of the features from my requirements list. If the features are there, but they don't work well or it's hard to make them work correctly, that's important to know.
  5. Make my decision. By the time I'm through this process, if I don't have any product I'm happy with, I start thinking about the one that's closest and whether it's extensible for the functionality that I need. Otherwise, if more than one meets my needs, I pick the one I'm happiest with and put it into use on a pilot project to make sure I can minimize the impact in case I was wrong.

As far as hiring consultants for a specialty, I'd be careful about that. While it's ideal to find an excellent consultant that's also got some experience with the product you purchase, I'd look for excellence first. I find that a great consultant can pick up something new and do much better with it than a mediocre consultant will with all the experience in the world. There's just something about excellence that I find transcends any particular discipline.


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