ReportBuilder 2.0 – focus on the end user…

The new version of ReportBuilder has been released. It was not ready for prime time when SQL Server 2008 was made available in August but has since been rolled out as a “Feature Pack”. During the beta it was called the “new ReportDesigner” so I labeled this new version as re-inventing the wheel. But since it has been renamed ReportBuilder 2.0 and was developed with the end-user in mind I see its place now. Let’s take a look…

ReportBuilder 1.0 was a server-side application that could be run using a browser. The idea was that end-users could launch an authoring tool allowing them to develop their own reports based on a pre-existing Report Model. The Report Model would be created by report developers in Visual Studio but once available, the users could do their own thing using Report Builder. The advantages of ReportBuilder 1.0 in my mind were: thin client, end-user involvement, consistent RDL format, rapid generation of powerful reports and the infinite clickthrough feature.

ReportBuilder 2.0 is a different animal. First of all, it is a thick-client app. It needs to be installed on the client. To offset my initial disappointment with this, the notes talked about “offline development” where reports could be developed without a server connection. Still disappointed. Secondly, there is a Vista look and feel. OK, if you are catering to the end-users and they are already entrenched in Office 2007, then the “ribbon” user interface will be consistent. Me? I can take it or leave it.

Running ReportBuilder 2.0 did give me some encouragement. It supports all data sources (not just Report Models like 1.0) and supports all pre-existing RDLs. Nice. To test this out I developed a report quickly using an existing Report Model and a new Tablix control. It worked well including the infinite clickthrough feature. Also, all the new Dundas controls in 2008 are supported including 3D gauges and scalebreaks etc. Very nice.

Next, I tried to edit an existing RDL from the AdventureWorks samples.  Here I noticed that the ReportBuilder 2.0 retrieves the RDL directly from the Report Server using the web service by default. This is unlike the ReportDesigner in BIDS (Visual Studio 2008) which uses local RDLs in Report Projects before deploying to the Report Server. I focused on the Product Line Sales report and using the new Query Builder I actually spotted a bug in the original query. The symptoms were: when I chose to “Select All” from the Multi-Valued Parameter for Sub-category, it did not list the Sales Reps in the correct order when using interactive sort. I fixed the bug and the report worked fine. It was because the TopEmployees dataset used ProductSubcategoryID in its GROUP BY which was not necessary. Who knew? I felt good that I had used the new version to actually fix a problem. In general, I enjoyed using ReportBuilder and the user interface felt consistent with the ReportDesigner but less complex. This I presume is the goal, because ReportBuilder is aimed at the end-user whereas Visual Studio should definitely be reserved for the developer.

So ReportBuilder 2.0 is a radical change but since it is no longer marketed as the “new ReportDesigner” I will withdraw my comment of re-inventing the wheel. Just like ReportBuilder 1.0 , I can see this tool being used to complement the developer tools in Visual Studio. The fact that it supports all RDL formats is a big plus. Report Developers can now choose their preferred UI and the end-user has a new tool for developing ad-hoc reports.

Add this to Slipstreaming and Uninstall for SP1, I'd swear someone at Microsoft is reading my blog...nah, couldn't be...

Cheers

Brian

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