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  1. #1
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    Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    I've been thinking about the alternatives to Access, for at least reporting. Has anyone got any thoughts/comments/opinions on Crystal Reports, Component One, List & Label, or any other VB development component for reporting <img src=/S/question.gif border=0 alt=question width=15 height=15>
    - I know it's sacrilege to even think of changing from Access, but I have to support 3 versions of Office (and Office 11 is due next year), and 25+ reporting databases, so I've got to think about a new approach <img src=/S/surrender.gif border=0 alt=surrender width=31 height=23>
    - I still think Access is great and will be using it for the local database work <img src=/S/thumbup.gif border=0 alt=thumbup width=15 height=15>

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    Sorry, but I don't understand what having to support 3 versions of Office has to do with Crystal Reports or something else for reporting. Maybe if you explain more about the problem and the reasons for 25+ reporting databases, someone can give you some assistance. Are you trying to report on these databases or do you need a reporting tool for each of them or what?
    Charlotte

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    Charlotte,
    basically I want to replace our current set of reports in Access.
    Issues are multiple versions of Access, multiple databases, something like 200 sites and a number of PC's with different versions of everything (Windows, service releases & service packs, etc.).
    I was thinking along the lines of a VB shell using one of the reporting components, like Crystal.
    Was also considering the .Net versions, so as to avoid DLL hell
    - yeah, I know, I'll believe it when I see it <img src=/S/smile.gif border=0 alt=smile width=15 height=15>, but the idea of installing by simply copying files to a directory sounds oh so tempting
    Bonus is, it'll give me some experience of .Net development

    What I was after was any general opinion on the pro's and con's of the three reporting components I've found, or are there better ones out there

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    ... I don't see how new reporting tools would help as you will still need to maintain all of the old systems to get the data to the reporting tools. If you are trying to connect to so many versions directly with the new reporting tool, you will still have to deal with connectivity issues. The other option is exporting everything to text or csv formats and importing the data to the reporting tool. I don't see how this would benefit you either.

    The best suggestion would be to get everyone on the same system or export all of the data from the various tools to one data repository to report against.

    I have actually used MS Access and avoided some of the other reporting tools as I found it easier to connect to other apps and create reports using access. Access also give me more flexibility and user friendliness feel.

    Just my <img src=/S/2cents.gif border=0 alt=2cents width=15 height=15>
    Regards,

    Gary
    (It's been a while!)

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    <img src=/S/hello.gif border=0 alt=hello width=25 height=29>

    I'd seriously think about web based reporting solutions. That way, you won't need install anything. The users just surf to the sites with the reports. There are many ways to do this. Crystal Decisions, automating Access, ASP, ...

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    I use both Access reports and Crystal reports (8.0). For the developer the environment in Access is nicer, Crystal uses modal dialogs for all sorts of stuff whereas Access dialogs are modeless.
    Having said that I find crystal reports is vastly more powerful than Access in what one can achieve.
    One gripe is the graphing facilities in crystal is much worse than Access. (At least for me it resets lots of customisation to the default when I make one tiny change and then a half hours work is down the tubes)

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    Thanks for the response Mike
    The idea of web based reporting is being considered, and for some of our sites it'd probably be the best solution as they have a lot of small offices which are geographical challenged, e.g. in Scotland (ok this is in the UK, compared to the wide open plains of the US, I remember driving across Dakoata, Wyoming and the rest). Issue I have is that some customers are only one part of the larger authority, so installing & setting up a web server is going to be difficult, even harder will be getting someone to maintain it. Unless I can show them another benefit e.g. a means to use the reporting mechanism to address other needs, say giving local people access to their local government info <img src=/S/thinks.gif border=0 alt=thinks width=15 height=15>

    Any idea of the prices of Crystal Decisions?

    I've seen a note about "something" from an Australian company that sits on IIS and drives Access to produce web reports, ah found it. Company is SSW at http://www.ssw.com.au/ssw/AccessReporterforIIS/ so that may be worth a try

    Overall though I still think for maybe 'phase 1' I'm still thinking on the VB + reporting component

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    Thanks for the reponse Andy, interesting to hear you comments on Crystal.
    Have you used the ActiveX components programatically to create an application <img src=/S/question.gif border=0 alt=question width=15 height=15>
    Does it come with a free viewer, or does every person have to have a copy <img src=/S/question.gif border=0 alt=question width=15 height=15>

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    I use crystal for reporting from C++ based apps with Access as a datastore. I have a dialog that acts as the viewer, On the end-users machine some dll's need to be installed. These dll's can be distrubuted freely as far as I know. (check with crystal as there may be licencing issues in certain circumstances for large corporations). There are some things that one can do that require the end user to have a licence but these are mainly with dynamically creating/modifying reports, just delivering a report and viewing should be OK.
    There are Active-X components (including viewer I think) but I haven't used those.

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    Thanks again Andy
    <img src=/S/thumbup.gif border=0 alt=thumbup width=15 height=15>

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    Coming at your problem from a somewhat different perspective, are your reporting databases just that? Does nobody input data before creating the reports. If they do, you still have the problem of the user interface for the user. In that case you might want to consider the web app seriously. On the other hand, user interfaces that are a piece of cake in Access can be downright difficult or even impossible because of web browser limitations. Will everyone have the same web browser (IE), or are you supporting Netscape, Opera and other browsers?

    Another alternative might be to look at Citrix or Windows Terminal Services for all of the outlying locations. Doing it that way lets you control the version on the server, and the user still sees the Access user interface.

    Another alternative that presumes you have substantial bandwidth would be to use a deployment tool to put out new versions, and deal with PC upgrades as they occur. In that case the front-end database would be downloaded to the local hard drive.

    Not sure any of this is useful, but your thread started me thinking (on the other hand I've been in bed with the flu for two days, so .....).
    Wendell

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    Wendell, thanks for the response

    Yeap the databases are all just reporting on the data entered using our main application, which sits on top of the Oracle tables. My side of things is the reporting on what's in the tables for various operational and government related things, like performance objectives and the like.

    The web reporting is interesting but getting a local authority to set-up a web server could be a major hassle. More of an issue is, some will, some won't, and I can't force them all to, so I'll still need a non-web method.

    Some of the sites do use Citrix - that's another support problem <img src=/S/smile.gif border=0 alt=smile width=15 height=15> - argh, e.g. one site, my code (as copied from VBnet) to retrieve all system and user DSN's doesn't work on their Citrix box, does on ours, and my machine, so why not theirs ???

    The PC's and operating system are not under our control, we can only ask the customers to maintain them, but there is the complete range of WIndows, from 95 through to XP, with every variety of SR and SP you care to name, all of which makes support a real pain <img src=/S/frown.gif border=0 alt=frown width=15 height=15>

    Currently our standard reports are made available in Access 97 & 2000. Users produce their own reports in whichever version of Access their authority has.
    I suppose my requirements are:-
    (1) minimise the number of 'versions' of Access I have to support, but I can't just support say XP, as sites with say 97 will complain. I suppose I could offer a run-time version
    (2) ease installation and upgrade problems - currently we provide just the MDE, but the number of problems I get back on ODBC, DLL's, etc.
    (3) add more options, like charting / web / scheduled output - whatever the sales people are currently asking for as the next 'must have' <img src=/S/smile.gif border=0 alt=smile width=15 height=15>
    (4) get me some more / newer / broader development skills in e.g. .Net, web, etc.

    My current thoughts are provide our standard reports in a VB.Net shell using a reporting component, and (maybe, if development time can be found) give the users some 'tools' to assist them using any version of Access to produce their own queries & reports, i.e. some form of Add-In. Both Crystal and List & Label have web reporting, so it may be possible to have that capability as well.

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    You do have an interesting problem. On the other hand, if you are getting by with just 97 and 2000 versions now, people who adopt XP will run the 2000 version no problem. Office 11 (or whatever name the marketing gurus come up) with isn't likely to hit the street for quite a few months, but who knows what compatibility it will have. It just seems a shame to dump the development you've done and start over from scratch with a different product. You might explore the Access Run-Time approach in more detail - it seems to have less problems with errant dlls and ocxs than a standard mdb or mde approach. I understand that Charlotte has considerable experience with developing and deploying them. You might take you of your problem DBs and try that with it as an experiment.
    Wendell

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    Re: Alternatives to Access (A97/SR2)

    Glad it's not just me that thinks it's an interesting problem <img src=/S/smile.gif border=0 alt=smile width=15 height=15>
    In some ways I'm really happy with Access, scratch that, I'm very happy with Access, but I'm conscious that development in A97 is not exactly cutting edge, so from a personal point-of-view, I'm not sure it's a good idea <img src=/S/frown.gif border=0 alt=frown width=15 height=15>

    I'd welcome comments from all on the installation issues with the run-time, especially the XP version, and it's effect on other version of Access, i.e. can I produce an XP run-time safe in the knowledge that I'm not going to @#$!% up the users 97 or 2000 full versions <img src=/S/question.gif border=0 alt=question width=15 height=15>. The advantages of using Access XP would be many, e.g. I can leverage the Office suite, XML, etc.

    PS. Access XP won't run our 2000 reports, there is something weird going on with the handling of events in the sub-form. The interface is built by an A97 wizard I wrote, but I've not had time to try and work out what the problem is.

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