Crystal Reports can connect to various sources for data extraction. For most users this will be a database such as MySQL, Sybase, Oracle or Microsoft Access. The software can also pull in information from Excel, text files, Lotus Notes, or even HTML XML files. This isn’t an exhaustive list of supported sources but you get the idea, chances are good that however you store your data, Crystal Reports will be able to plug in and retrieve it.
Once you have the data you want you can use, Crystal Reports to create a report. There are a range of visual styles, graphic representations and even animated elements available to you. If you want to incorporate video or cross-reference data then you can do it.
The software is potentially very powerful and if you want to go further than just presenting data you can apply some formulas and enter the realm of analysis. This will allow you to compare data and generate what-if scenarios or sales forecasts.
The final element is delivering your report. You can automate a process for delivery and choose your own method, from e-mail through to web publishing. You may even consider developing applications and embedding Crystal Reports elements within them and there is documentation to help .NET, Java and Eclipse developers do exactly that.
So far, so good, but how does it work in practice?