SQL Server Reporting Services and Crystal Reports:
A Competitive Analysis

Copyright 2005, Brian Bischof


During 2004, Microsoft grabbed the attention of the Visual Studio .NET community by announcing a new reporting product: SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). Not only did they promise to give programmers a new reporting tool, but it was going to be free as well. Suddenly everyone was comparing Reporting Services to Crystal Reports - the report designer that has been bundled with VB since VB 3 and integrated into Visual Studio .Net (and will also be included in the next release of Visual Studio .Net 2005).

The goal of this paper is to illustrate differences between SSRS and the current version of Crystal Reports, Crystal Reports XI (version 11). Each product has its strengths and weaknesses and these are highlighted here. It's important to evaluate each product and consider which one works best for your application's reporting requirements.

After working with both products, I compared them on product offering, report file format, licensing, data connectivity, security, and design capabilities. We'll get into the full details on each subject, but I do want to highlight two things about Reporting Services:

  1. Although advertised as being free, Microsoft does not recommend the "free" configuration and additional SQL Server licensing (anywhere from $5000 to $25000) will be required just to get started.
  2. Reporting Services only handles about 75% of common reporting scenarios in my estimation. Some obvious features expected from a reporting tool are missing and still has bugs that needs to be fixed. This most likely won't be enough for developers who need to write new reports on a regular basis or have users who are critical of the report output.

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Table of Contents
1. Executive Summary
2. Reporting Services Overview
3. Reporting Services Overall Impressions
4. Product Offerings and File Formats
5. Licensing Details
6. Connecting To Data
7. Securing Sites with Forms Authentication
8. Designing Reports
9. Passing Parameters
10. Exporting Reports
11. Subreports
12. Conclusion