e-reporter deploys 3000 reports over the Web
New utility works though a few rough edges to create Web pages automatically
Review by Shawn Gordon
Everybody wants everything on the Internet these days. Remote access, file transfers, batch reports. A few of the issues for batch reports from your HP 3000 are getting them formatted in HTML (especially if you don’t have the reports’ source code), and getting them to the destination Web server in an automated fashion. e-reporter will allow you to set up all the various parameters required to intercept a batch report, insert HTML, and FTP it to your Web server, all automatically.
e-reporter acts like a forms printing package such as Fantasia or FlexForm, allowing you to establish external controls to intercept and format various spool files. There is a fair amount of configuration that can be done through e-reporter — if you look at Figure 1 you will see an example of what the HTML Overlay Maintenance provides.
Pretty much all the parameters are optional, but some become required if another field was selected. For example, the Header Logo Width field becomes required if you specify a Header Logo.
How does it work?
By creating HTML overlay definitions and setting up the SpoolMap entries, you can then select what reports get merged with which overlays. Look at Figure 2 for an example of SpoolMap. Another useful feature is e-reporter’s Web site maintenance page. You are able to configure as many Web servers as you want within the system, and then when you go to set up the SpoolMap entry you specify the name of the Overlay and the name of the Web site for the spool record. You can have multiple Web server destinations for a report as well.
The only snag I saw in this overlay design was that there is no way to get a pick list of values available from previously defined tables, such as the Overlay and Web Site. You’ll need to know what the values are. There is an option in the online program to list the values, but then you must write them down, or remember the value and go back and enter it, to pull up the record.
Once you have configured your various options, then you need to launch the background job — which scans the spool files and processes them through the HTML Overlay and transfers them to the Web site that you defined.
There is a nifty feature you can use when configuring a Web server to test the connection. I tried putting in valid and invalid entries, and the program was able to correctly determine if the server existed or not. I liked this touch as a matter of completeness.
There is a bit of a chicken-and-egg syndrome with e-reporter — some configurations require other configurations to be done already, but it’s not immediately obvious what needs to come first. An option to dynamically add required information would be nice. I’ve talked with Bonnysoft about it, and hopefully they will add it in a future release.
Once you are done configuring, you just stream the background job and let it collect the information. The performance hit is going to be dependent on how many spool files are on your system. The software doesn’t appear to use HP’s Architected Interface for interrupt-driven spool processing. But it does appear to tailor its redirected SPOOLF output based on the criteria you specified in the SPOOLMAP entries, so maybe it’s not too bad.
Installation and Documentation
You can download the demo from the Bonnysoft Web site or have it e-mailed to you. My files were delivered in a Reflection Label format (I believe they need to support MiniSoft’s format as well). They use a store-to-disk file, so you upload a job and the file, stream the job, and it creates the accounting structure and restores the files. Installation was very easy, and no problems were experienced.
The documentation is very nicely done. It is 48 pages, so it’s not overwhelming, and there are plenty of screen snapshots and examples. The program itself has online help and each field is explained as to the type of data it expects — a very clean setup overall.
The Test Drive
I didn’t run a large-scale test of the product, so my testing report is based on just setting up a couple of SpoolMaps and a single Web server and single overlay. Configuring was very simple and only took a few minutes. I then set up some spool files to process. What I was most interested in was how e-reporter handled simple PCL escape sequences. We like to have everything print landscape and compressed at our site, and we also do a bit of underlining.
I was disappointed in this regard. e-reporter doesn’t appear to make any effort to convert carriage control sequences, or stripping escape sequences. Consider the following HTML snippet:
1Run Date: 11/11/1999 5:58 AM #J245 CLAIM LOADING ERROR REPORT Report: BR6002
RECORD # CLAIM # FIELD NAME FIELD VALUE
THE CLAIM FILES HAVE NO ERRORS
First, you’ll see the line of data with the complex escape sequence that got left in the HTML. Next you’ll notice the ‘1’ in front of ‘Run Date,’ which is what the carriage control for the page eject go translated to. After that you will see the two escape sequences to indicate underline, and then end underline.
I’ve spoken to Bonnysoft, and at a minimum they will be translating carriage control into blank lines and throwing away page ejects. The escape sequences are trickier because they can be embedded inside of text strings. There are some things they can do with relative ease to take care of the common cases, but maybe they should come up with a translation table that you can configure externally.
I was thinking about writing a product like this at one time, and just never got to it. A lot of people might think it’s not a hard thing to do, but for less than the product’s cost of $500, you can hardly write it fast enough to make it worthwhile. Bonnysoft has done a nice job of putting this package together. There are still some rough edges, and some ease of use issues that need to be worked out, but I’m sure that will come with time.
By the time you read this review, I believe Bonnysoft will have addressed some of the issues that I have talked about. Bonnysoft is very keen to hear ideas for enhancements and even sent me a list of tricks you could do in an overlay file that were pretty cool, so they are really thinking about how to expand the product.
I’m dealing with an issue right now of Web-deploying reports, and it’s a bit of a trick. Finding e-reporter was good timing for me. The flexibility of having multiple Web servers defined as destinations for the final report was very convenient. If carriage control and escape sequences aren’t an issue for you, then this product is certainly something worth looking into if you are interested in Web deployment of reports.