Book Review: Hitchhiker's Guide to SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services

Friday Oct 15th 2004 by Danny Lesandrini

Danny Lesandrini gives us a sneek peek at the up-coming Hitchhiker's Guide to SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services.

"These guys are pros.  Bill and Peter worked Reporting Services to death to learn everything they could to help you successfully deploy and use the product.  I learned new things when I read it.

From the Foreword by Bill Baker,
General Manager,
SQL Server Business Intelligence, Microsoft Corporation

About the Authors

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When I heard that Peter Blackburn and Bill Vaughn were writing another Hitchhiker book, I fired off an email to him, asking for the first right of review. At the time of my request, the book, Hitchhiker's Guide to SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services was not yet in publication, but Bill saw to it that I received a draft manuscript. I read a lot of technical books, but I can say without reservation that this was my most anticipated and most enjoyable read in the last few years. Here's why:

  • Bill Vaughn is at once, the Seinfeld and the Einstein of Microsoft centric development
  • Peter Blackburn is a talented and insightful Microsoft MVP, devoted to supporting developers.
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services is the next great thing you need to learn.

In addition to the opening quote, Bill Baker of Microsoft also wrote in the foreword, "You can be sure that Bill and Peter took a very independent view of our product.  I winced several times while reading the draft.  As much as it hurts when someone calls our baby ugly, we learn from criticism and use it to build better and better products."   From the book's acknowledgments, it is clear that the authors worked with both managers and developers of the Microsoft Reporting Services development team, getting the kind of inside scoop that would make this book a genuine resource for report developers. 

For those unfamiliar with the Hitchhiker series, Bill Vaughn explains his philosophy saying ...

"The idea was to provide fundamental information for developers just getting started, as well as advanced information for those more up to speed with the technology.  The books not only told readers how to do something, but why.  I always included my own opinions and best practices based on decades of experience, real world customer interaction, and direct contact with the development teams at Microsoft."

Bill goes on to say how he wanted his series of books to show how problems are actually solved, not just publish endless lists of objects and their properties.  His books should be easier to read than Microsoft documentation and devoid of the technically generic and politically correct.  Not to mention, that Bill is funny.  If you have ever seen him perform (and I do mean perform) at a conference, you will know what I mean.  His writing style is natural, easy to read and just plain fun. 

So, if you clicked the link for this article, you probably need, or suspect you will someday need Microsoft Reporting Services and you are wondering how to get up to speed.  If that describes your situation, you need this book.  Now, without spoiling the ending, let me expand a little on what Hitchhiker's Guide to SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services includes.

Security, Security, Security

As a kid, I spent the whole summer at the golf course.  Years later, I returned to the game looking for some advice.  A good friend of mine said "there are only three things you need to know about golf: 1) keep your head down, 2) keep your head down and 3) KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN!"

Based on comments from the authors, I am guessing it was Peter who orchestrated the books emphasis on security.  This theme runs throughout the book and for good reason: improper implementation of security could cost you your job.  Under the heading, Who Is This Book For? it reads,

"If you as DBA implement Reporting Services in an insecure way, you might as well post the SA password and your private data on a public newsgroup or display it in Times Square for the world to see.

Installation SSL Option

It is strongly recommended that you accept the installation default, "Use SSL Connections" and to ensure that you have no excuse for unchecking that box, the authors have included a couple of appendixes:  Installing SSL on a Web Server and   Using Secure Sockets Layer for Reporting Services.  If you buy this book for no other reason, buy it for security reasons.

Tips, Tricks and General Directions

Time, space and copyright laws do not permit me to reproduce the text of the book on this forum, but we may peek into the topics for an overview of what you can expect. Allow me to enumerate some of the more valuable tidbits that the book delivers.  This should help you determine whether or not the book will be a value to you.

  • How to Activate SQL RS on Win 2000 Domain Controller (not automatic or intuitive)  [pg 42]
  • Why SSL should be important to you and how to implement it  [pg 57 and appendixes]
  • Under which account should SQL RS run?  [pgs 59 & 226]
  • Protect yourself from SQL injection and Trojan Reports  [pg 222]
  • How to increase IIS Max Connections on Win XP  [pgs 136 & 703]
  • Set up and use RunAs.exe to test reports, as users will see them  [pg 135]
  • How to disable Integrated Security to reduce security threats  [pg 232]
  • Filter for NULL values from the Report Designer  [pg 278]
  • Procedure for passing parameters to Stored Procs  [pg 279]
  • How to create cascading criteria collection drop down lists  [pg 294]

As you can see, most of what I have noted here is from the first half of the book.  The second half goes into detail about how to accomplish report design from Visual Studio design environment. They cover things like:

  • Laying out the report, adding images, page headers and footers
  • Implementing a document map and drilling down into reports
  • Adding Charts and Crosstabs (Matrix Controls) to your reports
  • Deploying your finished product and customizing the Report Manager

Time obligations and editorial calendar constraints prevented me from savoring this material the way I would have liked. It is the kind of book you read while sitting close to a keyboard so that you can test-drive the code. Unfortunately, I did not have the luxury to linger over instructions and since I was reviewing a draft manuscript, I did not have the DVD or the Guide Me Videos. Prior to submission of this article, I did receive the DVD, along with an access key to get me into the premium section of their web page. Here's what I found:

The Guide Me multimedia tool on the DVD is far and away the best tutorial of its type I have ever used. I have used these things before, but they usually do not maintain my attention very long. The Hitchhiker's Guide Me videos are useful, easy to navigate and in some cases, practically required in order to understand the steps to accomplish a task, like the one, Installing an SSL Security Certificate on the Default Website. The Guide Me videos also walk you through the steps of setting up a development workstation with SQL Server, Visual Studio and Reporting Services. They are brief, to the point, and worth the time to view them.

You can read more about this precious publication at http://www.sqlReportingServices.net where the authors have devoted a site to the topic of SQL Server Reporting Services. There you can view the complete table of contents and learn more about the authors. The Premium section (accessible with a key code from page 1 of the book) allows you to ask questions, participate in a news group style forum, find Report Server related tools and much more. With all this going for it, this book is worth the $49.99 you'll drop on it.

» See All Articles by Columnist Danny J. Lesandrini

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