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Is ASP.Net for Real?

We are still struggling with which tools to use to build our next generating of database application.  In addition to that, we are struggling with whether we should build a thick-client or thin-client solution, and trying to sort out the reality from the smoke and mirrors. 

It seems as though a large number of folks are migrating to ASP.Net or Java/J2EE.  From my perspective, it seems as though the ASP.Net development tools are much more advanced and the Java/J2EE stuff is a lot of command-line work and lots of various tools to bring together.

Has anyone built a large-scale ASP.Net app that has lots of reporting capabilities?  If so, are you pleased with ASP.Net?  IS it all it is cracked up to be?  Does it seem to be reliable and speedy?

I realize that this is a large question to ask, but I'd like to separate the hype and marketing with the reality of someone who has done all that it promises to do.  We can talk all day about what it promises to do, but are people using it to build real-world, scalable applications?

Back in the mid-90s we spent 18 months discovering all of the limitations of another Microsoft product (Visual Basic)... what a nightmare to distribute and support.  And thank God for Delphi to come along.  Now, I can't afford to go down the  ASP.Net path, only to find that it isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Any words of wisdom, experience?

No Microsoft Dividends for Me
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

You mention "reporting capabilities".  ASP.Net - at least Visual Studio - comes with a version of Crystal Reports.

After struggling with Crystal Reports.Net for over 12 months, I am convinced it is the devil's spawn.  What should be a relatively simeple task is made incredibly complex.

Unless someone has better suggestions for a report generator that is properly integrated with ASP.Net, be prepared for weeks of frustration.

Ken Ray
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Reporting seems to be a critical issue for us.  We will be migrating more than 230 Crystal Reports to whatever our next solution is.

Plus, Crystal no longer has the same run-time royalty-free licensing in certain models (e.g. 'named licenses' on a web server).

Any insights people have on reporting would be great.

It seems as though there's Crystal and then everything else is a distant second.

No Microsoft Dividends for Me
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I've had good success with MS Reporting Services - which is built in .net.

AEB
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Ignoring the reporting aspect of the question, my opinion is...

large-scale - yes
pleased - yes
reliable and speedy - yes


At this point, .net and j2ee are equivalent in most respects. The only remaining question is whether you value OS/vendor independence or higher productivity higher.

AEB
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

2 linked sites that my current employer has created with asp.net are:

http://www.tamarackfunds.com/
http://voyageur.net/

Are these even close to the ballpark of what you are looking for?

Some of the report-ish type things we are trying to automate at this time are the generation of PDFs as the print versions of these pages. You know, database -> xml -> xslt -> InDesign documents -> pdf -> post on web.

PS. don't ask me about funds.

Peter
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

look at Report Services or ActiveReports by DataDynamics

Patrick
Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Uh... the Java/J2EE world is only command line if you want it to be.

I used to use the command line and JCreator and that was adequate for where I was.

Now, I use Eclipse almost exclusively and rarely ever see the command line for anything java-related.

KC
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

KC:  What report writer do you use?  Who publishes Eclipse?

No Microsoft Dividends for Me
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Peter:  Nice work on the web sites. 

Our application is a traditional database app with lots of reports.  While I know it'd be simply to serve up HTML-based reports in a browser window, I am (like you) looking for something that allows for precise alignment of content (such as for printing on pre-printed forms) and page-breaks properly without all of the header and footer stuff added by the browser print function.

What are you using for reporting? or investingating to generate PDFs?

Again, great-looking web sites.  Thanks for your input.

No Microsoft Dividends for Me
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Reporting Services is great if you're already using MSSQL (since the license will be free if you run it on the same box), and only pull data from relational databases.

If you need reports against OLAP cubes, you'll need to find something different. We couldn't find anything good enough, so we rolled our own using a combination of our own textual report infrastructure and a 3rd party graphing component.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

There is an XML exporter that takes the data from the same stored procs/views that the sites use, runs an xslt transform on them to a file which then gets fed to the InDesign documents. System.Xml in dotNet has an xslt gizmo.

Adobe's InDesign (the replacement for PageMaker) can take those XML files to smooge them into the PDFs that you then export. Part is setting up the fields, setting up the import schema, part is making sure the formatting is pretty enough. We also will be password protecting the PDFs (folks can print, but they can't change things, hurts on the accessibility quotient, but that's tiny compared to the liability of someone faking up numbers). InDesign can automate almost everything via scripting. Don't print out the scripting help pdf file: its like 1200 pages long. I'd love my own copy, but the new software protection scheme means that someone else does it, and I have to shoulder surf, and the $400 for my own InDesign is way out of my budget. There are (usually NASD) regulatory issues involved in the time it takes to get the print versions of prospectuses (prospecti?) available to the public, so in the past, there have been some late nights at the fund companies at the beginning of every month.

We had been using Quark to make them, but its behind InDesign and lacks the scripting ability. And has some wierd quirks with fonts and style sheets that make screen and print versions looking rather different, even when you play games with clearing those embedding bits in the fonts.

Eclipse comes from eclipse.org Free download. It is a java based IDE. Lots of books on it in the bookstore.

Our next doohickey will be somehow turning the SVG graphics into eps for importing into the InDesign templates. FOP and Batik from apache.org looks like a reasonable place to start on that one.

Biggest hassle on dot Net from my side is the lack of integrated source code control. MS really dropped the ball on that one.

I hope this answers some of your questions, and doesn't sound like a sales pitch of some kind. Your milage may vary. Offer not available in all areas. Batteries not included. Other weasel words available upon request.

Peter
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Brad, when you rolled your own, what 3rd party graphing tool did you use?  Did it meet your needs?

Pete
Wednesday, July 21, 2004


No Microsoft Dividends for Me:
Eclipse is an Open Source application originally started and oversen by IBM.  Check out Eclipse.org


Jasper Reports for Java has gotten some pretty good reports, but I've never used it myself.

KC
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

"If you need reports against OLAP cubes, you'll need to find something different."

Reporting Services works against OLAP cubes just fine; only downside is that you have to write the MDX yourself instead of using the designer.

I've written two commercial websites and a document processing service in .Net. The processing service was running over 1,000 docs a day when I left and the CPU averaged 10% utilization.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

All of this talk about reports and databases and stuff is putting me to sleep.  Do you people really work on this boring crap day in and day out?

Mr.Fancypants
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

>Do you people really work on this boring crap day in and day out?
Yes. For several years, even. This "boring stuff" is what business is made of.

Peter
Thursday, July 22, 2004

If you skilled in Delphi, then you can use it to create rock-solid web applications. There are number web-frameworks available such as:
- ItraWeb;
- ExpressWeb;
- Borlands WebSnap;

We have created quite complicated web application with IntraWeb and it is rock-solid, it just works for about 6 month without single crash. More over it very easy to deploy, you have an option to create completelly standalone exe, which works as  a service. Or you can produce ISAPI DLL for IIS or module for Apache. It rock!

Andrey
Thursday, July 22, 2004

>Do you people really work on this boring crap day in and day out?

Yes, it's how I pay the bills and how I pay for crack.

Wisea**
Thursday, July 22, 2004

I used Crystal Reports a couple of years ago, and I agree, there is some family connection to the Devil.

I have just started using Synaptris and IntelliView, and again, I find myself dealing with the Devil's relatives.

Grrrrrr!

If the experience with Crystal has not changed over the years, I would invest in a Bible (or your choice of Holy text), a shotgun and a bottle of whiskey (or tipple of choice). At some point in your usage of Crystal, you will find the need to use at least one of them. YMMV

Tapiwa
Thursday, July 22, 2004

As far as ASP.NET scalability goes, I'll add that I find it quite easy to cluster Windows 2003 web servers with NLB (Network Load Balancing).

MS SQL Reporting Services is definately worth a look.  Users can either run reports upon request, or they can be scheduled for delivery at specific intervals.  You can access reports online by simple URL navigation, or via a Web Services interface if you need tighter integration into your own app (be it web-based or thick-client).  And it supports a plethora of rendering formats, including PDF.  Pretty nifty.

Joe
Thursday, July 22, 2004

Am I missing out on some rite of passage by never having suffered through Crystal Reports?  Before I got work as a programmer I was a sysadmin at a decent sized company, and a senior programmer there was also convinced that CR was evil incarnate.

MacSqueeb
Friday, July 23, 2004

Fancy wrote, "All of this talk about reports and databases and stuff is putting me to sleep."

(I enjoy his off-the-wall quips, btw).

Honestly, I do find that kind of development stimulating.  It's like a puzzle trying to design the data schema -- always trying to look at it from a different perspective and see if you could relate data in a different way than was initially obvious so to reduce redundancy or increase clarity.  It's the same with trying to design business objects to represent that data -- I always ask myself, "is there some different way I could attack this that improves on the ways I've done it before?"

Besides that, I'm a math flunky so I can't do any other kind of programming.

Oh and yes, I think ASP.NET does deliver on scaleability (except for a few personal niggles that I harbor), and is unmatched for developer productivity.  We don't need complex reports here though so we just roll our own (i.e. with a datagrid or whatever).

MacSqueeb
Friday, July 23, 2004

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