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Book Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services

"Take the rocket science out of SQL Reporting Services"

Recently, one of our clients asked me to build some reports into an ASP.NET application that used SQL Server. I had no experience with report generators, but I did have some experience in building reports programmatically and did not want to get on the bad side of my client by billing a bunch of hours towards a report that is not flexible and does not do a lot of things that a reporting application should do. And due to delivering keynotes for DevDays, I had a chance to play with SQL Reporting Services, so it was time to take a real look. I like to read books, especially when I trust the authors. And knowing that my friend Peter Blackburn was co-writing such a book along with longtime Hitchhiker's Guide author, Bill Vaughn, I called Addison-Wesley to get a sneak peek.

And, wow, The Hitchhiker's Guide to SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services continues the legacy of quality books in the Hitchhiker series. I'm not sure that I'll ever write again because Peter and Bill's effort has pushed the technical writing bar to a new level that more writers today will not want to match.

This book is a winner in several ways. First, it's informative and humorous yet very easy to read. Second, it comes with a DVD that has a couple of gigs of videos that are nice supplements to the reading and they have some great demos of SQL Reporting Services. Third, it comes with a premium membership to the authors' Web site on SQL Reporting Services. This Web site is easily worth the price of the book.

I was so excited about the book that I asked if I could do a review and interview with Bill and Peter. The following is from a conversation with these SQL data gurus:

Guys, just so our readers will know who you are, introduce yourselves and tell us about yourselves.
Peter:
I've been connected to a computer keyboard from the age of 11. I have run my own consulting company since leaving Cambridge University where I studied computer science. I've built client/server database systems from the ground up starting from zero lines of code in C++, and I've also used and implemented database solutions for over 14 years based on other vendors' database systems - such as SQL Server. I've also worked on three book projects with my friend and mentor Bill Vaughn.
Bill: I've been knocking around the computer industry since '72. I worked for awhile in the mainframe world but migrated to PCs in the late '70s. I came to work for Microsoft in '86 and worked in various capacities including as a manager, developer, trainer, marketing guy, and writer. I retired in 2000 to focus on books, lecturing, and mentoring. My focus is data access, especially the layers between SQL Server and the Visual Studio languages. This means ADO and ADO.NET. Peter talked me into the Reporting Services book and it's really stretched my knowledge base.

When I sat back after reading this book, my first thought was that this product touches a lot of topics including security and infrastructure. I usually think that creating a report is a pretty basic task but this product does a lot more than just creating simple reports. How would you characterize the product in a short description?

Reporting Services places an integrated Reporting System in the heart of your business that is refreshingly fun, easy to use, provides reports in a plethora of formats, and has a comprehensive security model - no business large or small should be without it.

If someone asked you about choosing SQL RS over Crystal, what would you tell them?
Peter:
In the medium term SQL RS could be the long overdue silver bullet for Crystal. Ildikó, my wife, is a Crystal expert so I have to be on my best behavior. SQL RS was a product that Microsoft initially intended to release with SQL Server 2005, but as a result of feedback from those involved in the development community, Microsoft were convinced that what they had was good enough to be released for SQL Server 2000. So when you look at SQL RS today in SQL 2000 you are looking at a cut down feature set of what is coming in the SQL Server 2005 version of RS.
Bill: The fact that it's free is a good selling point (at least for Standard Edition users). Crystal's support is pretty challenged. I worked with them for a week straight to get a simple Web-based report done for my church and while it eventually worked, it's busted again now and I have no clue how to fix it. It's just easier with Reporting Services.

Has Microsoft built the killer reporting product?
Peter:
In a word, definitely. We have the highest regard for the development team that worked on this product, they are a great group of people and were keenly interested in taking feedback and adjusting the software as a result.
Bill: We were approached to do a second edition of the book for SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services even before the ink was dry. There are several interesting features that could vastly improve Reporting Services and we'll want to show those off - eventually.

Title: Hitchhiker's Guide to SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services
Authors: Peter Blackburn and William R. Vaughn
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
ISBN: 0321268288
Reviewer: Jon Box

More Stories By Jon Box

Jon Box is an Architect Evangelist in Developer & Platform Evangelism with the Microsoft Corporation. He coauthored Building Solutions with the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework, published by Addison-Wesley, and blogs at http://blogs.msdn.com/jonbox/default.aspx.

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