Looking Forward to Report Designer Features in Katmai’s Reporting Services

As I was slogging through updating reports for a client recently, I was really wishing I could fast-forward in time, install SQL Server 2008 in my client’s environment, and use the new report designer demonstrated by Jason Carlson (Product Unit Manager of Reporting Services at Microsoft) at PASS 2007 in Denver a few weeks ago. In particular, the 2000/2005 report designer interface isn’t very friendly when you want to work with matrix subtotal properties. When I teach Reporting Services classes, I often ask students to come up with a name for the green triangle that is the single point of entry to the Subtotal properties. No one has yet come up with anything better than “that green thingie…”. Somehow that strikes me as so much more amusing than the more matter-of-fact “green triangle.” (But then I’m easily amused…) I’ve been creating reports in Reporting Services for at least 4 years now and still have yet to master the precise click-motion required to nail that green thingie the first time. Compound that with trying to accomplish this feat over a Remote Desktop Connection and I was quickly frustrated before I had finished updating the first report! Only twenty more to go…sigh.

While Katmai won’t help me with my current problem, I am delighted to see that it will resolve one of the most frustrating aspects of working with the matrix data region. I haven’t done an official count, but I do believe I use a matrix much more often than a table, so my encounters with the green thingie are more numerous than I would like. I suspect many other people are frequent users of the matrix and therefore feel my pain. Fortunately, our collective frustration goes away as soon as Katmai releases (and we can convince everyone to make the leap right away – I AM an optimist after all!).

In fact, not only does the matrix improve, the whole report designer interface changes. The version that Jason showed at PASS was a separate client tool – outside of Visual Studio, that is – which he said will ultimately be merged with Report Builder (but don’t expect that to happen in the Katmai release). The beautiful thing about the report designer is that it’s less intimidating to non-developer types than the Visual Studio report designer interface. The Properties window is still there for the hard-core folks. For everyone else, a right-click will get you what you need. There’s also definitely an Office 2007 flavor to the new designer, including ribbons. Business users who are responsible for report development will LOVE this tool.

I have to say it all looks pretty, but my personal favorite is the disappearance of the green thingie. Nothing personal, but good riddance. Subtotal areas in a matrix will now have a place right alongside every other object you place in the designer. And you can use subtotal areas a lot more flexibly, too, because a matrix is no longer really a matrix. Now it’s a tablix. (Is that tay-blicks with a long a or tab-blicks with a short a…..?) More about tablix in a future blog entry. Watch for the new report designer in a future CTP release. –Stacia

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