quinta-feira, 31 de março de 2011

Report and documentation software: an efficient way to save time and money

Picture this: you want to create an impressive presentation about your company's latest product, and, after you are done, maybe you'd like to send the ones who attended it some print material, or a website showing the same content, but formatted in HTML. However, when you start to create your Power Point presentation, you discover that it looks amateurish – not reflecting the excellent professional you are. To top it off, when you try to create your Word material, pictures go out of their place, and tables are simply tedious to create. HTML? Never mind that. And then, you get frustrated: isn't there anything that would do the dirty job for me?, you think.

Here comes the good news: there is software that does the dirty work for you, and this kind of software is generally categorized as report and documentation software.

How Does Report and Documentation Software work?
This kind of software offers you predefined layout: write your text, and it will choose size and fonts appropriately; insert table data, and it will be created, colored and positioned automatically; create graphs, and they'll be consistent everywhere. This is similar to what MS Word styles are, but better: this kind of software supports multiple document formats too, ensuring you can, for instance, create a wonderful, elegant presentation out of an ugly Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Beware, though: choosing the right software is not a task to be taken lightly.

What Is the Best Report and Documentation Software out There?
Mainly, we have 3 alternatives on the market: Crystal Reports, from SAP Crystal Solutions, SQL Reporting Services, from Microsoft, and Windward Reports, from Windward Studios.

Crystal Reports is, currently, among the most known software today. However, the learning curve is ridiculously high: as it can be seen here, Crystal Reports 2008 requires several tweaks to work right on Windows Vista. This flash demo, showing one of their presentation examples, isn't very impressive either: when you click the round button to do calculations dynamically, the mouse behaves in a weird way, making the button not to spin correctly. See here:

all this means you'll need to spend time fixing your install and presentations. Wasn't the whole point of this to save time and money?

SQL Reporting Services, on the other hand, is a popular Microsoft product. However, it manages to fare than Crystal Reports: sample reports are difficult to find, and you have to read a whole book just to know about what has changed when they released service pack 1 (I wish I was kidding. Look here: http://www.viciowarez.com/descargar-ebookz-15/microsoft-sql-server-2008-reporting-services-unleashed-858035/, right in the section "Understand How to").

Last, but actually the most surprising of all of them, is Windward Reports: of all three, this seems the best option to save time and money: their program can either run on .Net or Java, and integrates seamlessly with MS Office. This means that although there is a learning curve, it is negligible compared to what Crystal Reports – or worse, SQL Reporting Services – demands of you. And since you don't need to learn as much – not even how write a single line of code, in fact – you are saving a lot of time and money. This is the whole point of why you are buying reporting and documentation software, isn't it?

The Bottom Line
Among all of them, Windward Reports seems to be the most promising: it offers near-seamless workflow integration and it's extremely lightweight. And as mentioned before, no programming required! Frankly, leave programming to programmers and don't worry about getting a new book every time a new service pack of your software is released so you can learn "what's new." Do what you do best: talk about business and your latest products – and then, profit.

Publisher's site: http://www.windwardreports.com/

segunda-feira, 28 de março de 2011

Guest article published: "How to write... with style!"

This is Liz Cornwell, a successful freelance
writer specialized in writing about information technology.

Hello, everyone! I was honored to write a guest post to Liz Cornwell, who owns a writing service company and is an experienced freelance writer and translator. Here it is: 

I hope you enjoy it.

domingo, 27 de março de 2011

XML vs. SQL: which database is the right one for you?

Are you the owner of a medium-sized company? Then, you probably know how increasingly hard it is to keep track of your clients: long gone is the time you could write down the name of your clients using a pen and a schedule, or – if you are really computer-savvy – a small, offline application to store their names and addresses. And now, it is time to think BIG. Except that... how exactly should you start thinking BIG?

The best way to start thinking BIG is to think of a database that processes BIG chunks of data: after all, in our era, information is pure gold.

Database Wars: Simplicity vs. Efficiency
SQL (Structured Query Language) has been an industry standard for quite a while, and there are several flavors you can get a taste from, ranging from "free" (MySQL) to "commercial" (Microsoft SQL). Even the free alternatives, however, prove to be great for serious business, being very fast and efficient. Unfortunately, efficiency doesn't mean simplicity, but quite the opposite: SQL can turn out to be quite complex and hard to manage, and should a database get corrupted, data recovering can prove to be quite complex.

XML (Extended Markup Language), on the other hand, was never created to serve as a database: although it is a long-time standard, only a bit more recent than SQL is, it's simply a series of tags designed to work together.

Ironically, XML is so simple that it can itself be used as a database – a very flexible one, indeed: your XML implementation can be infinitely customized through tags and a different array of libraries. As a plus, should your database get corrupted, you can open it in virtually any text editor – it's a text file, after all. However, XML has a major drawback: it is slower than SQL when processing data, and requires more resources to run.

The Bottom Line
If you want something fast and can handle complexity, choose the tried and true SQL. On the other hand, if you can afford faster hardware and bandwidth in exchange for a database that requires much less maintenance and is ever-evolving, choose XML.

sábado, 26 de março de 2011

HTML vs. XML reports: how to choose what's best for you

We all know HTML reports are popular for displaying online content: being extremely flexible, they allow many different types of information to be displayed in a semi-automatic way. However, they are as easy to get wrong as they are to generate: tables can behave differently in different browsers; boxes may be out of place, or some of your text may even not show at all. Should this happen, your company may get a bad reputation it does not deserve.

So, is there a way out?
As a matter of fact, yes, there is: you can implement a XML reporting system. Similar to HTML, XML reports also use tags, but they have many additional points in their favor:

  • XML reports are much cleaner than HTML reports are. 
  • They can be customized to suit your needs, as you can create your own tags
  • Like HTML reports, XML reports can be viewed in a browser, but, unlike them,  they can be used as the source for many formats of online and offline content. 
  • Finally, should things go wrong, you usually can edit your XML reports by hand, as many programs generate clear, human-readable output. 
Let's be realistic: although HTML is here to stay, XML reporting tools are getting more and more promising by the hour: as you read this article, these programs are getting easier and easier to use, and supporting more and more formats. 

The bottom line is: if you were to choose, what should you choose? 

If you were to choose, certainly choosing a XML report system is the way to go: not only XML reports are more versatile than HTML, but this system can also generate HTML reports itself should you need them. Certainly, the cost of implementing this kind of system is much higher; however, if you can invest into it, affording the time, money and complexity required this is the way to go if you need your documents available in 10 different formats and then some. Although you will spend a while training yourself and your employees, opting for XML reports, in fact, will certainly save you money in the long run.

HTML vs PDF reports: which one should you choose?

Ever since the Internet was acknowledged as a commercial success, circa 1944-1995, it has been regarded as a near-universal online reading format: it is flexible and has a simple syntax and loose conventions, ever-allowing the expansion of its standards; therefore, it's no wonder it is being widely used and accepted since then.

As HTML is so flexible and so easy to understand, it is no wonder that HTML reporting has been created: HTML reports, combined with CSS, allow the display of your data in multiple ways, changing just a few lines of code. Don't like the fact that your tables have an orange header when they should have a blue one? No problem: just change the CSS, and done.

An HTML report, however, has many shortcomings: it is hard to print, there is no guarantee of consistency among different computers, and layout freedom is very limited compared to a PDF reporting. Long story short, HTML reporting is very good for what it is intended for, but were you to print them, you should have too many headaches.

Well, as it was briefly mentioned before, what about layout freedom? If you ever wanted your document to have an specific feel, making it more light-hearted and bubbly, serious, modern – be it as you wish – you know well what I am talking about: in HTML, fonts are restricted to a set of common widely-used fonts, as Arial, Tahoma, Verdana or Courier. Do you think you can easily use Helvetica as text easily when writing an HTML report? Think again. You can use it, that's for sure – but using them is very much of a hassle compared to PDF, and this can also bring legal issues. Let's not talk about object positioning either: using something as simple as MS Word, you can post a photo virtually anywhere in your document, something that cannot be guaranteed when you choose for HTML reporting.

So, which one should you choose? HTML reports or PDF reports? The answer is simple: choose both of them. HTML reports and PDF reports do not oppose each other: rather, they complement each other. And with a good conversion tool, you will surely generate terrific content both for online HTML reports and offline PDF reports.

quinta-feira, 3 de março de 2011

Tick diseases in your dogs: a hidden danger

You are taking a walk with your dog, and it very energetic and playful, as it has always been... and on the next day, your pet doesn't feel like drinking or eating a lot. Then, you find out the back limbs are paralyzed. You ask yourself, worried: "Could it be rabies?" Reluctantly, you take your beloved animal to a veterinarian, praying it won't be so (and that your dog won't bite you).
As usual, the veterinarian may ask you to watch your dog's behavior (or ask for it to be hospitalized), while you wait for the results of a blood test, which will be ready by the afternoon.

4 PM. The phone rings, and you answer, anxious. "Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you," says the veterinarian, in a very somber tone. And then, you try to get a hold of yourself, so you won't cry. Quietly, you keep hearing his grim voice saying: "Your dog has a tick disease. He needs the utmost care."
You start to cry, mourning your dog's imminent doom, until you realize he said it was a tick disease. And then, after snapping out of it, you think: "What? Does he mean a tick caused all this? That little thing?"

Don't be so surprised, though. Tick diseases are more common than you might think, and are responsible for many kinds of diseases that are lethal to your pets - and in rare cases, lethal to humans, too.

Don't be so surprised, though. Tick diseases are more common than you might think, and are responsible for many kinds of diseases that are lethal to your pets - and in rare cases, lethal to humans, too.

Forms of contamination
A dog gets sick when it gets bitten by a tick contaminated by a small organism, which can be bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and so on. This kind of contamination can happen everywhere - walking in the park, in the grass of your garden, or even standing close to infected walls.

A few types of tick disease
  • Babesiosis - An illness caused by a bacteria of the Babesia species, which includes, but it is not limited to Babesia canis rossi, Babesia bigemina, and Babesia bovis. An aggressive disease, it feeds on the red blood cells of your pet, destroying its immune system in the process and damaging the body as a whole. Symptoms may initially show as flu-like, paralysis of the limbs, unwillingness to eat and / or drink, and, notably, not urinating or defecating. If untreated, it may lead to quick death.
  • Erhlichiosis - usually less aggressive than babesiosis, this illness destroys the white blood cells of your dog. Symptoms are very similar to the ones in babesiosis though, except your dog may also show accumulation of fluids in the eyes or edemas. Even though it is less aggressive than babesiosis, it shouldn't be ignored, as it will also kill your pet if the illness is ignored.
  • Lyme disease - caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, it manifests itself from 2 to 5 months after your dog is bitten. Symptoms are similar to that of babesiosis and erhlichiosis. If not treated properly, it is more likely to cause a severe liver disease that may kill your dog.
Always check for ticks in your dogs and use appropriate products to get them removed. Do NOT crush or burn the ticks by yourself, as they may contain eggs and by doing so, you may help them to proliferate. A good, non-harmful option to your pet (and to your own safety) is to use Frontline products, available at http://frontline.us.merial.com/. Although they do not prevent tick bites, they will kill any tick that bites your dog in 48 hours - and also getting rid of the eggs and the youngsters as a bonus. This product protects against ticks for around a month, and 3 months for fleas. Consider taking blood tests of your pet as well and taking it to your veterinarian routinely.

If your dog shows signals of being apathetic, not wanting to eat or drink, and most importantly, any kind of paralysis, consult your trusted veterinarian immediately. Once the symptoms start to show, tick diseases may progress to death, as stated previously. However, if treated properly, chances are your dog will live a longer, happier life.