Report Browser Advice & Beta Test

Hello DONATION beta testers and advisors. I’ve uploaded version 3.15 Beta3 for your testing pleasure, and I also want some advice about one of the features in it.

I’ve already asked for your advice about the new startup options window, which was very helpful. That’s in this beta test version too. I’ll say something about how to test it later in this entry.

The big new feature in this version is the new Report Browser window. It’s under the Reports menu, and it is a window that lets you see the names of all reports, with full descriptions of each one (as in the Help) and information on what inputs each one prompts you for, if any (like, a range of dates). I think this will be very helpful, because currently, beyond the titles, there’s no easy way to know what each report does, so for new (or even experienced) users, it’s hard to decide which report(s) to use.

The questions I have about this new window are as follows:

  1. Should it replace the current menu options for running the reports, since it does allow you to run them, or be in addition to those menu options? The advantage of leaving both in is that you can run the reports from the menu more quickly, especially if like me you use keyboard shorcuts to pick your menu choices. The disadvantage of leaving both in (which is what I did in this beta version) is that there are now two ways to do the same things, which could be confusing.
  2. Assuming both the Report Browser and the existing menu options are left in the program, should the menu option for the Report Browser appear above the other Reports sub-menu options for the reports (Donor, Donation, Receipt and Category), as it does in the current beta version, or below them?
  3. In the Report Browser, currently the list of reports is a tree structure, which when you first open it shows only the main headings – Donor Reports, Donation Reports, Receipt Reports, and Category Reports. (It is structured exactly like the existing sub-menus.) You open up each of them, by clicking the + sign to their left, double-clicking their name, or pressing the space bar or right arrow key, to get to their contents. Would it be better to have all of them fully open when this window opens? (The disadvantage of that is more scrolling to find the one you want.)

By the way, those of you who have been testers or advisors since early 2007 may recall that I had created a Report Browser window like this for the .NET translation of DONATION that I was working on, but later decided to give up on. I’m glad to have finally got it back into the program again!

Here is a list of all of the changes in this version, since version 3.14:

  • There is a new initial startup window for the first time you start DONATION, which allows you to choose between the normal initialization steps for a new empty database and restoring a backup of the database, from a previous installation of DONATION on another computer, or the same computer.
  • Added the Reports à Report Browser menu option, which allows you to browse through all built-in reports in the program, and see detailed descriptions of them, to help you select which report you want to use. You can also still select all of the same reports via the Report menu’s Donor, Donation, Receipt and Category sub-menus.
  • Added a menu option Letters à Mail Merge Training Videos on the Web which takes you to the web page which contains several videos for learning how to use the Letters menu options for mail merge letters and receipts.
  • Added a new report: Reports à Donation à Current Donor History, which shows how much the current donor has given in each year that you have data for in the database.
  • Added the Use French Dates checkbox in the Maintenance à Receipt Options window, to allows you to use French dates in the built-in receipts, and in all mail-merge letters and receipts.
  • Added the special mail-merge fields «French» and «English», which when inserted into a mail merge template letter or receipt, overrides the Use French Dates setting.
  • Made some small changes to the window that comes up when you select Letters à Mass Mailing, so that it will fit if your screen dimensions are 800×600.
  • Made some small changes to the main window, so that at screen dimensions of 800×600 the bottom part of the donations area (with the totals) isn’t cut off.
  • Added a few more helpful details to the Help page for Filtering Reports.
  • In Maintenance à Change Password à Limited User Password, the program now gives a message if you specify a Limited User Password when there is no Program Entry Password. This is because in that case, the program will not prompt for a password when it starts up.
  • In the help page for Saving Reports to Files, added a section about the very useful Save as type “HTML Table”, which generates output that looks a lot more like the original report than other Save as types.

As usual, to test this, go to, and download and install donupdt.exe from there. And as usual, please let me know any testing results you come up with, positive or negative, or any opinions you have about the changes.

I did say I’d write something about testing the new startup window. To test that, you need to start DONATION with a completely fresh database. One way to do that is to install on a different computer. (And since this beta is only an update version, you would do that by installing the current full version 3.14 from the DOWNLOAD page, not running it, and then installing the upgrade to the beta.)

Another way to test the new startup window is to upgrade your normal computer to the Beta version, then make sure you have a good backup (preferably a couple of them), and use the Database -> Delete All Data menu option to delete all of your data. After doing that, it will be like a first-time startup. But that’s only an option for brave souls, who are confident in their backups!

Thanks, all!

11 thoughts on “Report Browser Advice & Beta Test

  1. My comments on the Report Browser:

    Q1 – leave both in. Most software provides more than one way to do something and that’s good. Users can go with what works best for them.

    Q2 – I don’t think that really matters. I’d find the choice either at the top or at the bottom.

    Q3 – I suggest leaving it “as is” with the ability to collapse. I’m used to that and it makes it easier to find a report if you see the category/group first.

    Initial Start-up Choice – looks OK to me. I don’t think that’s confusing. The way I tested it was to use “switch database” to create a new, dummy database and switching to it. That triggers the “new install” screen. After testing, I simply wiped out the dummy database.


    • Yes, using Switch Database to test the initial startup window was very smart Klaus. I actually considered mentioning that in my original post above, except the wording of the window that you get when you do Switch Database to a new empty one is slightly different from the wording of the startup window on your original main database. But the way it works is identical.

  2. Q1. Leave both in.
    Q2. Above is fine, but I won’t complain about below.
    Q3. Show only main headings.

    o Initial startup – works good.
    o Reports -> Browser – good.
    o Help-> Mail Merge Training Videos on the Web – is not under help but under Letters.
    o Reports -> Donation -> Current Donor History – looks like that might come in handy some time.
    o French Dates – I’ve never like all number dates – it can lead to errors. If the date is 8 Apr 2009 it will never lead to errors. But that’s not your fault, Dan.

    All in all, I’m happy with the changes.

    • Good catch on me saying the wrong menu for the Mail Merge training Videos on the Web. I’ve fixed that in the help and in the blog post above.

      For the French Dates, they do use the long date format you have set in Control Panel, so they aren’t number dates, unless you have hacked that long date format to use only numbers. (For receipt mail merges, and the <<DetailsTable>> field in the Total Donations Info mail merge letters, it shortens the month names to 3 letters.) Did you see it using dates with only numbers somewhere in the mail merges?

  3. Q1. Report Browser should be in addition.
    Q2. Report Browser above.
    Q3. Leave as is – unexpanded.

    New initial startup window is fine.
    Link to training videos for mail merge is a good idea.
    Donation current donor history is OK and useful. My info goes back to 2001.
    French dates – Je n’utilise pas.
    I do not use the limited password facility.

  4. Q1 – both

    Q2 – at bottom of list with Custom Reports

    Q3 – collapsed… definitely a bummer to open in expanded view…

    You didn’t ask.. but if you had to choose between the current Report menu and the new Report Browser.. I’d prefer the current.. seems like this choice will not have to be made..

    Good job..!!


    • David, you’re right that it seems you won’t have to choose between the two report interfaces. People are voting to keep both (which was my stronger inclination too, though I wasn’t sure).

      I suspect that you prefer the existing menu-based interface because you already know which reports you use and what they include. I think the new interface will be of significant benefit to new users, though, don’t you?

    • That’s something I might consider. But given how easy it is to run the reports, and the fact that most of them run extremely quickly, I think just the descriptions I have now may be enough.

      I also considered having an image sample of the report, but that would really up the download size, and again, why not just run it to see?

      Does anyone else have opinions about this idea?

  5. Pingback: Version 3.15 Final Beta Test « Software For Nonprofits Blog

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