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ReportSmith 3.0
by Scott E. Davis

[Report Smith] ReportSmith 3.0, is a full 32 bit, client/server ready, report development system. (The 16 bit version, ReportSmith 2.5, is also on the CD-ROM.) It accommodates large amounts of data simultaneously from a variety of sources including SQL servers, PC databases, and mainframes and allows the developer to use live data during development. The generated reports can be run from within ReportSmith or via a stand- alone royalty free runtime.

 ReportSmith is produced by Borland International, Inc., 100 Borland Way, Scotts Valley, CA 95066-3249. They can be reached at (408) 431-1000. ReportSmith 2.0 was donated to our organization by Bowen Moursund. After several calls to Borland, Jennifer at Borland Connections shipped me ReportSmith 3.0, the latest version.

After a relatively simple installation from CD-ROM I took a look at the 300 page book that comes in the package. Though there is a ton of on-line information via help this book appears to be the best first step for anyone new to ReportSmith. The book revealed this product contains a full SQL query generator, a very sophisticated report generator, an extensive macro language, and a complex way of reading data from different data sources.

 ReportSmith 3.0 provides four default report styles. These are columnar, crosstab (like a spreadsheet), form, and labels. You can create many custom reports using one of these as a starting point. A good example is a master/detail report. This report deals with multiple data tables linked by a common data item. This report design can show each customer and then list all of their purchases or orders. Another custom report, the summary, only shows value totals grouped as you choose.

 To get to your data ReportSmith 3.0 takes what seems to the long way around. For Borland products like dBASE the connections are made through the Borland Database Engine (BDE). Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) allows you to connect to any ODBC compliant data source. These include programs like FoxPro and Excel. Finally, there are some native drivers, or direct links, to specific data sources.

 The good news about these connections is the ReportSmith 3.0 functionality to select them via a pick-list based on available data sources. When I tried to connect to a FoxPro ".dbf" table but identified it as dBASE the connection failed. I then selected FoxPro as the data source and an ODBC connection was created instantly. The capability also exists to select several different sources, using different linking methods, and to report from all of them as one source.

To select the desired records based on your specific criteria ReportSmith 3.0 provides a Structured Query Language (SQL) builder that is better than others I have seen. It allows you to create complex query statements by selecting table columns, operators (=, >, and, etc.), and functions that combine with the selected tables to produce the SQL statement. The opportunity exists to test this query, run it, and/or save it as part of the report for reuse.

 ReportSmith 3.0 has several other notable features. One feature is a full macro language called ReportBasic. This special version of BASIC allows someone with an understanding of programming to automatically load and print reports, create customized prompts, and perform complex calculations among other things. Though this program contains a macro builder its not for the faint at heart. The manual has over 100 pages dedicated just to the macro commands.

 Another feature, missing from some other report generators, is a complete set of alignment tools for report design. The alignment tools align objects (fields, text, pictures) to a common top, bottom, or side base line. This makes it easy to build a professional looking report.

 You can also use Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) to link or embed pictures or graphs into your reports. This feature automatically updates your report when the graphical object is modified. ReportSmith 3.0 supports OLE 2.0 both as a client and a server.

 Along with the good points in every product there are a few bad ones. The book that comes with ReportSmith 3.0 was written for the ReportSmith included with Delphi. It refers to the Delphi Client/Server package many times and is somewhat misleading. Also, for such a complex report system I was surprised to find that it does not create snaked-column reports.

 Overall this is a heavy duty, all weather, four wheel drive report development system. It has some easy to use development tools but its power comes with the price of substantial complexity. This package really belongs to the men and women in the corporate MIS department with the skills necessary to put it to good use.

A call to my favorite mail-order house revealed that this version of ReportSmith sells for about $180 plus shipping. A small price to pay for a report generator that can do just about any kind of reporting you can think of!

 Scott E. Davis is a net-surfin programmer who drives all the way to Austin to program FoxPro for a national consulting firm.