Report.Web Fulfills Its Paperless Objective

SAN MATEO (01/28/2000) - THICK STACKS of greenbar printouts may strike the PC crowd as anachronistic, but large systems still churn them out. The common alternative -- mining data from host databases into smaller warehouses for reporting and analysis -- is costly and complicated. There should be an intermediate step between paper reporting and an all-out reworking of your firm's reporting strategy.

Network Software Associates Inc.'s Report.Web 2.6, beta, fills that gap, making bulky printouts available online. You can publish any report to an intranet without having any Web programming skills. If the ability to file online reports is all you want, Report.Web makes that single task refreshingly easy.

Its data-extraction facility is suitable for populating spreadsheets and desktop database files from host reports.

Report.Web's primary competitor is the paper printout. Legacy Press, a product from Forest Computer, isn't as feature-rich as Report.Web, but its HTML output is more functional. Most other reporting solutions (such as Crystal Reports and Actuate) draw information from host databases. Report.Web acts as a "report extender," working solely from textual report output.

I tested the second beta release of Report.Web 2.6 and found it in excellent shape. I tested Windows NT software on both Windows NT Server 4.0 and Microsoft Windows 2000 Server. Report.Web ran nicely in both environments, but I advise against running it on Windows 2000 until Network Software Associates (NSA) certifies it for that OS.

I can't overstate the value of a smart installation program, and Report.Web's is the smartest, smoothest installer I've seen in a long time. It not only copies Report.Web files to your server's hard disk, it also adds itself to your Web server. If the installation runs into difficulties, it explains the problem and gives you a chance to fix it.

I purposely threw it a couple of curves. In one case, I got a descriptive error message telling me exactly what to change, then it aborted the install and removed the files it had copied so far. The installer handled the second curveball on its own, asking my permission before making a change to my Web server's operating parameters.

Report.Web installs seven new services, but you don't need to run them all. An administrative tool, Report.Web Manager, handles starting and stopping the services and supplies the interface for configuring Report.Web's server.

Much of Report.Web's work is done silently and automatically. Its most interactive feature is the Modeler. This application marks up a report for the server to find the data fields it needs. You need only identify each report's fields once. Report.Web uses field markings to extract report data into Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets, if that is your target for output, and to define breakpoints for automatic bursting (breaking one report file into many). It will also extract report data to popular desktop database formats including Paradox and dBase.

Report.Web's weakness lies in its paradoxical Web support. Its Web interface is attractive and easy to use, and it gives users ready access to report data in text, Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format), spreadsheet, and database files.

But its HTML output is limited to flat, single-font HTML reports, with one link for each report page.

NSA's Markup application, which identifies the various fields on a report page, does not let administrators rearrange fields or change the report's appearance (by altering fonts and colors, horizontal rules, or logos). Instead, you view host reports in a browser-launched Java applet or ActiveX control called Insight that mimics the original printout: a single fixed-pitch font throughout, displayed over a simulated greenbar background. NSA could significantly enhance Report.Web by exploiting HTML's powerful formatting capabilities.

Report.Web's greatest appeal lies in its deft automation of online report distribution. The tasks of data mining, analysis, and custom reporting belong to more advanced tools. If all you need is to move reports from paper to display, Report.Web will see to it.

Tom Yager is a senior enterprise services architect at WebLink Wireless in Dallas. He can be reached at tyager@maxx.net.

THE BOTTOM LINE: BETA

Report.Web Enterprise Server 2.6, beta 2Summary: Report.Web accepts server data in a variety of formats and publishes it to PC users via an intranet. Host reports ordinarily delivered in printed form are imported, bursted, and displayed page by page in a Web interface.

Business Case: Reports you now print on continuous forms migrate easily to your intranet with Report.Web. This saves on the cost of paper and other printing consumables, along with the expense of shipping bulky printouts to remote locations.

Pros:

+ Easy, attractive interface

+ Effortless installation

+ Good documentation

Cons:

- Limited reformatting capabilities

- Simplistic HTML output

Cost: $19,995

Platform(s): Windows NT; OS/390 later this yearShipping: January 31Network Software Associates Inc. Arlington, Va. (703) 875-0444; www.nsainc.com

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