Both SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and Crystal Reports (CR) are business intelligence applications that take data from data sources of varied formats and generate reports providing decision support information. For example, data can be accessed from Excel Spreadsheets, SQL and Oracle Databases and local File systems, and reports generated in Excel, PDF, DOC and other formats. Reports can be interactive Web reports, or tabular, graphic or free-form on-screen or print reports.
A debate has been going on regarding the comparative advantages and disadvantages of SSRS and CR. The debate has been complicated by two major facts. Firstly, many of the complaints relate to earlier versions which might not be present in the latest ones. Secondly, the applications are used in varied environments for varied purposes and some might find SSRS more suited to their requirements while others might find CR the right choice.
CR was created by Crystal Services Inc. as Quik Reports to work with dBASE and Paradox databases of that time. Ownership of the company (and product) changed first to Seagate Technology, then to Business Objects and finally to SAP who sells it now. The product has gone through several versions during this period. One general complaint is that the documentation is inadequate, something that can happen when the kind of ownership changes as above occur and new development teams have work with an existing product and upgrade it to work in new environments.
SSRS was created by Microsoft, who released it in 2004 as an add-on for their SQL Server 2000. The product has continued to remain with Microsoft and has been updated along with their SQL Server product. It uses a Report Definition Language based on the versatile XML. In a Microsoft environment, the product can be expected to integrate well with other Microsoft offerings and provide a more pleasing experience. And considering that a Microsoft environment is the most popular environment, SSRS is likely to prove the better choice.
One general complaint is that CR is a pain to work with, being clunky and slow. There can be two possible reasons for this. This can be the result of the peculiar challenges its development team had to work with in the context of ownership changes, and that too with a product designed for a very different environment.
SSRS, on the other hand provides a far more pleasing experience. However, there are complaints about it not being able to meet finer formatting requirements. Born in an earlier era, CR is more likely to come with more low-level features that enable it to do things at this level (though much more painfully).
Most users might SSRS a better choice, more suited to modern environments and requirements. On the performance front also, SSRS is likely to score much higher in most environments. On the other hand, CR has been in existence for a longer period and more people are likely to be familiar with it. And those who are finicky with the smaller details might prefer the low-level features of CR.
Overall, SSRS is a better choice for the modern user who is more concerned with performance and ease of use.