First Looks

Label 12: Build Custom Reports

A versatile reporting package for Windows and Web applications

List & Label 12 is a versatile reporting package for Windows and Web applications. It supports a wide range of programming environments and platforms including Java, capabilities as used in Visual Studio 2005.

In my previous review of this product, I noted the need for a getting started guide for raw beginners. The vendor, combit, responded with a "First Steps" file that introduces the components and discusses how to integrate them with your application. List & Label is database independent, which means that you're responsible for getting the data to the report engine's doorstep and telling it which fields to display. The beginner's tutorial is okay, but the file is poorly written, to the point of being distracting. The idiomatic irregularities make me think it was written by a non-native English speaker. In a similar vein, I discovered an additional quick start while exploring the CD's Movies folder, a video in German that shows how to create a report and hook it up to data. An English-language version showing L&L 12 would be a great idea. Despite the language barrier, I was able to follow the on-screen actions to create a categorized report for this review.

List & Label's databinding resembles that of Microsoft's built-in controls. As such, it's easy to set the DataSource DataMember properties. You can bind to a DataSet, DataTable, DataView, DataViewManager, OleDbDataReader, SqlDataReader, and several interfaces including IListSource, Ilist, and Ienumerable.

People who analyze and interpret data are never satisfied with the reports you give them. That's not a complaint, but an observation that they're always looking for new ways to view the data. Fortunately, you don't have to build every report they request. If you buy the Professional version of this tool, you can let them do it themselves (see Figure 1). After you set up the basic report with data, include a button on your form that calls List & Label's Design() method. End-users can create and save their own reports, including functions such as Sum, Max, and Now. The steps for creating a new report are confusing at first because L&L launches an Open dialog box that suggests that all you can do is open an existing List (.lst) file. However, after you type a file name and click Open, the designer launches a Project wizard that walks you through the process of setting up a new report and adding data.

The designer's toolbox includes several useful objects, including rich text, an HTML page (using a filename or a URL), charts, images, barcodes, and shapes with gradients. Advanced end-users will love this capability. It'll keep them busy jazzing up their documents, and you'll get far fewer change requests.

Once users have a report, the next need is to print, publish, or distribute it. At this point, developers can offer self-serve options through the Print() function. In addition to sending the content to a printer, the Preview window lets users save or e-mail the contents as a PDF document, plain text, or a TIFF, EMF, or JPG image.

The software allows royalty-free distribution with your Windows application, but it imposes unfair and unrealistic licensing terms that might deter you. For example, combit ties one license to one developer, but then forbids that developer from installing a second copy on a laptop. If you're developing a report module that's part of a bigger Windows project, combit dictates that all developers on the project need a license for List & Label. It enforces licensing by broadcasting internal messages over your network. In addition, you need separate licenses for each Web server with the license cost based on the number of concurrent users; both of these issues discriminate against Web developers. I suspect that if Combit were to ease List & Label's licensing terms, it would increase adoption and improve a fine product's chance at becoming a "name brand" report generator.


List & Label 12
combit
Web:
en.combit.net
Phone: 49 7531 90 60 10
Price: $1,010 (Professional)
Quick Facts: Data-driven report generator with a redistributable designer and numerous print and output options.
Pros: Hooks up easily to .NET data sources; versatile design-time environment; lets end-users create their own reports; prints to PDF, flat text, and image formats; royalty-free runtime for Windows applications.
Cons: Restrictive licensing conditions for project teams; requires additional licenses for Web applications and concurrent Web users; awkward English in the documentation.

About the Author

Ken Cox is a Canadian .NET programming writer and the author of "ASP.NET 3.5 for Dummies" (Wiley).

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