polling opinions on web-based reporting

I'm just about to start  to develop the invoicing module for an application running in asp.net, and I guess the invoicing will be required to  output in PDF, raw CSV or XLS format, as well as formatting to be viewed in a web browser.  What is the most popular approach?  Roll-your-own, or I was considering buying Crystal, or is anything else out there that anyone would recommend?
Silas2Asked:
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samtran0331Connect With a Mentor Commented:
I guess if you're used to designing tables to layout the report, then you're okay.
With reporting tools, it's just much easier and quicker to drag/drop and place items onto the report.

As far as keeping business logic separate, I don't think it would make a difference using a reporting tool or building your own html report...

so I guess by "complexity" i meant layout in general and not specifically graphing.
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AdelKhCommented:
Hi.
I just want to mention that I am using "Crystal Reports for Developers" in my Project.
I am very satisfied with crystal reports, it is easy to develop, and regarding the export , it is ready & reliable.
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samtran0331Commented:
If you plan to redistribute/sell your app, Crystal Reports has crazy expensive licensing policies.

The 2 other reporting tools I've used are:

MS-Reporting Services - Which has a lot of setup issues.

ActiveReports (www.datadynamics.com) - This is what I currently use. Pricing/licensing is fair. Powerful, and most important, easy to deploy
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mlmccCommented:
Are you using Visual Studio?  If so there is a version of Crystal included.  You can easily use it for the reports you want.

mlmcc
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Silas2Author Commented:
It's funny you should say that about Crystal being prepackaged with visual studio.  I have got the Standard version - at 150 quid I think it's somewhere between the freebie and the professional versions, but typically in the MSDN documentation's table for which versions of visual studio come with Crystal reports prepackaged, the Standard version is not listed??
When I search for the files (Crystaldecisions*) I can't find them.  Anyone have any idea of whether Crystal Reports comes with the Standard Edition?
If I re-run the VS installer, it looks like I've got all my boxes ticked.
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samtran0331Commented:
crystal only comes in the pro and team system editions
http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/vs2005/aa700921.aspx

also keep in mind what i mentioned earlier, if you plan on running crystal on anything outside of an intranet, there are licensing issues:
http://www.businessobjects.com/products/reporting/crystalreports/net/licensing.asp
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Silas2Author Commented:
Actually I was having a look at the MS-Reporting Services stuff, it's funny but it looks as if it's competing with Crystal, is that the case?
I realise that my standard version of VS has an rdlc/reports template installed, I think that's connected with MS-Reporting Services isn't it?
Do I have to buy anything in addition to make use of it?
Do you think I can do everything I need for a standard invoicing type module with it?
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samtran0331Commented:
Reporting Services is part of SQL Server...so you do need to have SQL Server....the way Reporting Services works...unlike Crystal or ActiveReports is that Reporting services is a completely separate program that runs on the server ....and it creates it's own reporting web site and site to hold reports...it's a serious PIA to set up....once it's up and running though...I would say its no better/worse than Crystal or ActiveReports...it does have the benefit of allowing users (non-developers) to create ad-hoc reports through its web interface.
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Silas2Author Commented:
I'm using SQL Express on my dev machine, and I'm migrating my client's apps to my ISP who are running SQL Server 2k - is that a configuration which would allow me to develop reports? Do I have to have special access to my ISP's SQL Server to develop/deploy them?
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samtran0331Commented:
you need to check with the ISP to see if they offer Reporting Services...some do, some don't, some charge extra...a couple I know for sure offer RS are www.discountasp.net and www.orcsweb.com
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Silas2Author Commented:
Actually the more I think about this, the more inclined I am to do roll-your-own.  In my previous incarnation as a Windows Forms developer, what would put me off rolling your own was having to deal with the Windows Printer object, but I realise now that as more of our output is to do with markup, e.g. HTML, XML etc and the prevalence of these PDF writer products it may be easier not to become reliant on the third-party report writing applications which were, I think, always over featured anyway.  A report, 99% of the time, is really only a grid sandwiched between a header and footer after all.  What you think?
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samtran0331Commented:
If your reports are complex, have very specific formats, or if you have a separate person writing reports, then I'd say you definitely need a "real" reporting tool.
But if 99% of the time, you anticipate nothing but simple grid-to-report scenarios, then I guess using a true reporting tool is overkill.
As far as generating your own reports through a web app without a reporting tool, i've done it a few different ways...
1. basically make a "print version" of the grid page so that it includes your header/grid/footer, then simply have a button with javascript:window.print(); attached to the onclick event...basically the page is sent to the client's printer....you don't get "repeating page headers" though (like if your report prints out to 5 pages, it's difficult to make the header print out on all 5 pages)
2. use an ASP.Net PDF tool....a free one I've used is sharpPDF (free)
and WebSuperGoo (free if you include their logo on your site)
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Silas2Author Commented:
Thanks for that. I've just downloaded the sharpPDF source code, I managed to get it to create a PDF  and deliver through HTTP although I had to save it to disk first, then send it in a response stream -I don't know if this matters?
When googling around about it, I did find a site which pointed out that the smartPDF project had been abandoned, the version I got was in v. 2003 so they are probably right.
I know have the source code so I'm not exactly stranded but I'm not sure if I really want to have to get deeply involved with PDF file creation if it stopped delivering.
I'm not sure whether to pay a bit of money stay with smartPDF or have a look around for another freebie, any comment?
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samtran0331Commented:
I didn't realize sharpPDF was abandoned, there are other freebies... iText comes to mind.
There are plenty of commercial PDF generators out there too...just keep in mind generating a PDF isn't the same as generating a report.

If your reports get more complicated, a PDF generator won't meet your needs and you'll need a real Reporting tool...so I guess if any current PDF tool meets your reporting needs, no reason to shell out $$$ for another one...but if you do feel the need to spend $$$, I'd look into a reporting tool and not just a PDF tool....
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Silas2Author Commented:
Yes thanks I'll have a look at that iText.  It's funny you should say "complicated" as I've tried to think back over all the reports I've done over the years and the most complicated that spring to mind are things like departmental invoicing (a sort of invoice within an invoice) but I think they could have been done with temp tables and PDF.  I remember getting very interested in the idea of sub-reports, with this sub-report flowing independently from the text of the main report, but in practice I was never asked to create one in anger.
In terms of the complexity of the data contained in the report, of course sky's the limit, but the actual reports were often quite simple.
I do have a very strong preference of keeping business logic within their appropriate business logic modules, and try to prevent business logic "seepage", so I will always try and have the absolute minimum (if any) code in a report anyway.  I'm not sure if this is the complexity you are referring to, or perhaps the complexity of graphical layout with charting etc?
If I get asked to do charts I normally always suggest an Excel dump and let the users chart to their hearts content.  What am I missing?
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