Feb 032013
 

I’m going to clean up a mess I started. I’ve complained about Excel not being easy to integrate into the internet or replicate its complete functionality in the almighty cloud. As I research further it’s clear that bringing anything into the cloud is a challenge and once it’s in there the elegant cirrus clouds can become thunder clouds and mushroom clouds.

mushroom cloud

 

IT’S HARD TO GET ANYTHING INTO THE CLOUD

As I’ve searched for ways to get Excel embedded in a web page with full functionality on the internet, or replication of key features, here’s what turned up:

  • Pay services that will convert a spreadsheet into a mix of JavaScript, PHP and other web languages.
  • Subscription sites that charge from $12/mo to several hundred dollars per month.
  • Developers that insist “learn PHP and MySQL, and ditch Excel.”
  • Excel Web Apps is more than nothing however, VBA code doesn’t translate from desktop excel to the cloud with Excel Web Apps. None of the following translate either: Dropdown lists, cell protection, restricted cells.

 

Why is this so difficult? Here’s what it takes to get something on the internet and embedded in a web page:

  • A place on the internet; i.e., a domain, a host and a server
  • A server-side language. Here’s a funny cartoon with several sever-side languages debating their value:
    • PHP
    • Python
    • Ruby on Rails
    • Java
    • .NET
  • A web page running HTML and CSS
  • A Database if you want to store data
  • For the real-time updating that we get in Excel, that requires JavaScript. Otherwise, you have to hit an update button with every change.

Now I understand what developers face in bringing a nice little desktop app onto the internet. I’ve studied this because my clients have me building apps and it would be nice for them to be web-based. But what language should I learn? PHP? Ruby? Something else? There are pros and cons to each, and no matter what, there’s a time investment and a learning curve. (I’m currently enrolled in an Ajax course)

And then we look at Google’s spreadsheet and its awesome collaborative aspect. What’s the deal with Excel? Online collaboration can eliminate certain version control issues. Aside from differences between Excel and Google spreadsheet, let’s peer into the cloud clouds. They aren’t all calm weather cirrus clouds. Beware the gloomy thunder clouds and apocalyptic mushroom clouds.

 

THERE IS A LOT ABOUT THE INTERNET THAT SUCKS

Generally, the internet is wonderful. Last night I was watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window for the first time and the salesman looked like Raymond Burr. Within seconds, sure enough, Google confirmed that Raymond Burr was the salesman. The internet brings work efficiency, information, and fast communication. It’s natural to be disappointed that something as powerful as Excel isn’t easily incorporated into a website. But wait! Do we really want our businesses completely in the cloud and on web pages?

There are Thunder Clouds Aplenty
  • Incompatibility between browsers
  • Updates that fix one thing and break something else
  • Public places that limit the amount of time you can use their internet connection
  • Slow-loading web pages
  • Providers that throttle your speed
  • Plugins that the developer may not stick around to support and update
  • The cost of internet access
  • Slow or overwhelmed servers
  • The easy distractions of email, Facebook, shoe shopping, obscure facts, and “The Top 5 Ways to _____”
  • The dynamic nature of the internet that requires ongoing updates, vigilance, troubleshooting and tech support
And … the Mushroom Clouds:
  • Security
  • Hackers
  • Tech troubles with Internet Service Providers
  • The ease of stealing content
  • Deprecated code
  • Scheduled maintenance with your ISP, and all customers are taken offline
  • Web host crashes
  • Sloppy developers & sloppy code
  • Webmasters who disappear and/or drag their feet

if there aren’t multiple users and complex workflow, there’s no real case for having an application on the internet.
Shira Hammann

The lists could go on forever but the point is that there’s a lot to appreciate about well-built desktop apps. Rather than hate Microsoft Excel’s developers, we should appreciate the challenges, and actually feel spoiled. Something that takes 15 minutes to create in Excel can take hours or weeks to create online if you aren’t a developer and have to chase PHP’s curly brackets or Python’s spacing.

As part of app development we have to ask can we bring it online and should it be online? A friend and developer, Shira Hammann, summarizes it this way: “if there aren’t multiple users and complex workflow, there’s no real case for having an application on the internet.” The next conversation is more difficult.

Let’s say you’ve got multiple users and complex workflow. Now, who’s going to manage the dynamic environment and will it be a big deal if you lose internet access?

 

Just some things to think about. And new appreciation for the stability of desktop applications.

 

mushroom cloud   photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

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Oz du Soleil

I am Oz du Soleil. Data Mercenary and Excel Trainer. My courses have been described as informative, fun and they get people to relax about using Excel. I'm based in Chicago, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and have a passion for custom-made hats, good bourbon, and spicy food.
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