Thoughts on MV and PDF
A recent U2 forum discussion titled "PDF printing, LaTeX, Ghostscript, etc." had some notes about printing docs. I thought I’d share some comments for a more general audience. I’m not trying to sell anything or make any specific points, just following a train of thought and inviting you for the ride.
A follow-up to this blog can be found here: HowTo get PDF from MV … again
I encourage people to take time to look at LaTex and other options. However, I’ve done a lot of investigation down that route (the "R&D" part of my company name…) and concluded that I really don’t want to spend time writing the sort of code required to support these unique doc formats. Do you really want to learn a new language just to print attractive reports?
GhostScript is not a report definition language but more of a "rendering agent". You still need to provide content in some format, often PostScript – or using a PDF file as a source.
I’ve used html2ps: The author called it a "bloated hack" that was never meant to be used in production projects (he later reconsidered that quote and removed it from his site). It’s not maintained – the last release in 2005 was 1.0 beta5. I’ve also used HtmlDoc. These tools allow you to leverage your knowledge of familiar HTML syntax, but most of these open source offerings are not well maintained, if at all, and the functionality that’s supported is often limited and buggy.
We see so far that two tools are required for PDF generation and printing. To define the docs we can use LaTex, html2ps, HtmlDoc, or raw PostScript (yuck phooey) and other tools to print the docs, like GhostScript. That’s not the best technical summary, but I’m trying to keep hight level here.
I like PrintWizard
There’s much more to PrintWizard than PDF, and your $300 will save you several times from looking for yet another printing solution. PW can be completely driven from BASIC or any other language, leverages your existing knowledge of HTML as well, and can be used for a wide variety of reporting purposes in addition to PDF. Since PW is not a Multi-Value-only product, it’s an even better business purchase because it’s not just for the MV box but can be used by anyone in the office.
But it’s Windows-only right?
PrintWizard runs on a Windows server (IMO, an XP box should be fine) but if you look at the manual you’ll see that the source for data/reports can come from anywhere, any OS, any server.
PW isn’t just about printing. It also has a sophisticated model for extracting reports from various sources, processing them in various ways, and then exporting/rendering the documents to various targets. This aspect of the product should be investigated if you keep saying "OK, I have a solution for that problem but now I want to do this…".
I confess I haven’t had an opportunity to look at mvPDF from Brian Leach. However. His description in one of the responses to the aforementioned forum thread suggest that it’s similar to PrintWizard as well as different. For example, they both run as a Windows service, they both provide similar features for PDF generation. mvPDF does have a visual report designer which PrintWizard does not. To my understanding, mvPDF also includes callable subroutines to add PDF features to a report, where PrintWizard does this with HTML – different developers will appreciate the elegance of both approaches.
From what I’ve seen and heard I think mvPDF is definitely worth investigation. And I think we’ll find both of these products have unique and compelling value which may prompt some sites to consider them both.
Commercial vs Open Source
Personally I appreciate open source solutions and all of the effort that people have put into them. However, for business I need stable tools that are easy to use. I can’t spend time learning the nuances of syntax that can’t be leveraged in other areas. I dislike taking time to chase down patches, dependency issues, and options required to compile various packages from source on each new OS release. When software fails I need to be able to call someone and get answers or fixes. The cost for "free" software is simply too high for my own personal investment, and there’s no way I can charge my clients for the effort required to make things work using most of the "free" packages out there. Yes, I know "free" is supposed to mean "open / liberty", you’re preaching to the choir if that’s what you’re thinking, but let’s face it, hardly anyone cares about source code, all they want is software for no cost, and personally I find that brand too expensive to use or support. YMMV
I’ve been down this path, looking for printing solutions, and I’m just trying to pass along some experience to save you some time and aggravation. To avoid all of that FOSS hassle, I highly recommend that people take a good look at the commercial options as well. I don’t think most sites need to pay more than a few hundred dollars for most printing solutions. I’ve seen software for $15k+ (up to $100k if you include services/development) and cost has little to do with quality, especially in the highly competitive report generation market. That implies that there are good open source offerings and bad, good commercial offerings and bad. If you can use one of the products mentioned here, pay a couple hundred bucks, and save yourself days to weeks of ongoing hassle, I think the nominal cost is well worth it.