Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

AJAX Challenge: Spreadsheets

Three days into my AJAX challenge, and I’ve still not installed a single desktop application but then I’d really not ventured outside of using my email or word processor.

Last night was a big test. I’ve been putting off doing my quarterly budgets for a little while, but really couldn’t hold out any longer. I needed a spreadsheet.

I remember about a hundred or so years ago, seeing a demo of a Java-based online spreadsheet applet from Lotus. I’ve seen bugger all since. Last night, I read a post somewhere explaining why an online spreadsheet is so much more difficult than an online word processor. Where as online word processors are really just extensions of rich text boxes we’ve had built into web applications like email for some time, spreadsheets are based on rows and columns which in the web world are pretty much empty vessels.

Zoho recently gave me the opportunity to preview Zoho Websheet and it looks like it will do the trick once it hits beta, but these budgets needed to be done a week ago. I needed a solution now. So after a bit of webcrawling, I came across Num Sum

On registering, I have to say I was somewhat underwhelmed. There aren’t any graphic designers working on Num Sum, that’s for sure. However, never one to judge a book by its cover I persevered and was pleased to find that I could bash out a pretty reasonable spreadsheet on numsum no problems whatsoever.

It has some issue. The toolbar wouldn’t dock. So I had to keep scrolling back and forth to do formatting. And I found things worked better, when I just relied on manual entry of formulas. But in the end, it worked sufficiently well that, based on my very basic requirements, I think I can do without Excel. I’ve been able to work on the spreadsheet on the train to work, using my laptop and 3G connection, even though I created the spreadsheet last night on another machine, and no doubt wouldn’t have remembered to bring it with me. And a spreadsheet is one of those things that are made for collaboration. It would have been a snap to share the document I made with a boss or co-worker so that they could make changes.

That said, Num Sum hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface in this regard. There are no facilities to keep track of revisions to the spreadsheet, or to annotate cells. Indeed, there really are none of the advanced spreadsheet features that you’re typical spreadsheet jockey would probably rely on.

Thankfully, I’m a very light spreadsheet user and I think online spreadsheets will work just fine for me. Its a bit like making a decision to go back to Excel 95, but I’m one of those users for whom Excel 95 is all I ever needed.

So for me, online spreadsheets scrape by with a pass grade. There’s obviously an inordinate amount of space that needs to be done in this space, but as I’ve already outlined I think the fact that most spreadsheets are passed around and undergo numerous revisions make them perfect for translation to the collaborative, on-demand model.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, Online Applications

2 Responses

  1. Ding Deng says:

    wikiCalc by Dan Bricklin, “The Father of the Spreadsheet”, is also a candidate:
    http://www.softwaregarden.com/wkcalpha/

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