Review of ApexSQL Report v4.3

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Introduction

ApexSQL Report is designed for flexibility and fast

turnaround of reporting in a dynamic Rapid Application

Development environment.  The current version (v4.3) is ASP

based, with v5 coming out soon in ASP.NET.

The key with ApexSQL Report is that it utilizes existing

stored procedures by analyzing the procedure's meta data to

create filters to select user criteria and automatically create

report tables. This is useful in a busy development environment

as it provides immediate access the result-sets from those

stored procedures.  Reports are delivered in HTML so there

is no need to know any HTML, as well Excel. More output formats

are in the works. The Report tool makes it easy to build graphs,

tables, charts and spreadsheets. ApexSQL Report comes with a

copy of Fusion Charts, and has a powerful Admin console to

enable the creation of reports, users, groups and managing which

stored procedures used for the reports. 

Installation

Installation was fairly painless.  I unzipped the file

provided into directory (in my case I put it straight into C:\InetPub on my laptop, but in a proper environment no doubt you

manage it location easily enough through IIS and virtual

directories).  There are a few other steps to do such as

configuring the globals file, etc - but if you follow the

directions provided you can't go wrong.  If you do fluff

it, maybe IT is not your game after all...

There is a script which needs to be run into the database you

which to report from which will create a few tables (11) and

stored procedures (9) which it needs to drive it's objects. 

These are easy to spot as the tables all have a 'asprpt_tbl_'

prefix and the procs have 'asprpt_prc_'.

Using ApexSQL Report

I found the product very easy and intuitive to use.  I

purposefully avoided the using the (rather good) help

documentation in order to get an idea of how "easy it was

to figure out" - and it was.  Any developer familiar

with creating web based reports should have no problems figuring

their way around what I found to be a very intuitive interface. 

Having said that, once I did read the documentation I found it

was clear and useful.

There is a login screen with takes a default password to get

you started, but from there you can easily navigate around the

menu system as shown:

Setting up the reports for use was easy and

straight-forward. From the administration menu the user

navigates to a maintenance page which allows you to see a list

of the stored procedures in the database which the user can then

choose for their reports:

There are similar maintenance pages for creating

user groups and managing the users allocated to those groups. 

Once user groups have been setup and configured, reports can

also be added to these groups providing a sort of role-based

security model for the reports.  I say "sort of"

because all user details are stored in clear text in the

database, and I have seen too many organizations where database

security is pretty sloppy and users could potentially have

access to this information.  This is clearly not Lockwood's

fault, and there is little they can do if DBA's are sloppy about

security protocols, however it is something to be borne in mind

if you choose to go down this road.

Once ApexSQL Report has been "made

aware" of the stored procedures these can then be used to

create the reports. The next image shows the maintenance screen which one uses to create and categorize

the reports.  Again, like most things about the product, I

found this to be intuitive and very easy to figure out. 

For my sample I just created some stored procedures that read

the Category Sales and Product Sales views in Northwind.

The next image (below) shows the output from a stored procedure, and as you can

see the report is clean and well formatted.  There is a

function list at the top of the column to sum, average, count,

etc the values in each column.  I guess this has good and

bad connotations.  I liked the idea of being able to choose

a function (sum, average, count, etc) on the fly, but I was a

bit bugged by the fact that there was no ability to add any

Totals to the reports (unless I toyed around with the stored

procedure to get a total).  The same thing is there when

exporting to Excel, so this is where I found the usefulness of

the reports to be a bit limiting.

The next image shows a sample report with a graph attached.  ApexSQL Report

produces a good, clean graph, and there are a number of options

which can be set to give the developer a fair bit of control

over the formatting of the chart. I did feel a little cheated

however because the chart page still displays a 'Create Excel'

button, which simply copies the dataset (not the graph) into

Excel.

Another useful option which I found (especially in a

development environment!) is a 'diagnostic' option (which essentially does a scan of the stored procedures

used to make "all is well." If there are any issues

(such as a stored procedure getting deleted or renamed, etc)

then this can be managed accordingly.

Technical Support

When using ApexSQL Report I did not need any technical

assistance, but I did have some questions which were answered

promptly.  The website has a support section on it which

appears well used, and answers to queries seem quick and

efficient.  As far as the product goes, there are no

support costs and Lockwood offer free upgrades for life.

Conclusions

ApexSQL Report is very easy in intuitive to use, and as long

as your stored procedures return good data, your reports will be

quick, clean and well formatted.  There are a lot of

features which make a very useful for RAD developments. There

are a number of features which would be useful to have such as

grouping, subtotal/totaling etc - but perhaps these will be

addressed in subsequent versions.  I know that version 5.0

will include an XML interface for better performance and

integration with XSL style sheets for custom reporting, which

would probably address some of the issues I raised above.

Ratings

Ease of Use 5 Intuitive and self-explanatory.
Feature Set 3 Does what it sets out to do, but I do

think that the reports need to provide some sort of

'extended features' such as grouping and totaling,

drill-down, etc if the product is going to stay relevant

on the future.

Technical Support NA Not tested, but from the way it looks

at the support site I think it would easily rate a 4 or

even 5 if needed.

Documentation 5 Standard documentation format (.chm),

was complete and covered all my needs.

Installation 5 Absolutely no problems at all.
Learning Curve 4 No problem starting to work with the

application directly without reading any documentation.

Overall 4 Overall a good product that solves the

problems it sets out to do. There some issues and

features which I've come expect seeing some of the other

reporting tools out there which will need to be

addressed (as per the feature set comments above) but

most of these will probably be solved in future version,

and lifetime upgrades are included! 

Product Information

Web:http://www.apexsql.com/index_sqlwebreports.htm
Developer: ApexSQL
Pricing: $995 (1 Developer License) There are no support

costs and this includes free upgrades for life.

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