Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Web Office Suites

After a decade of inactivity in the office suite industry - other than Microsoft raking in billions - suddenly there is lots of news. Now we need a brave soul to question the underlying applications themselves - the word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation.

I've already posted on the rise of OpenOffice, its standard XML Format, and Google Apps. Each of these has a momentous effect on the industry - I predict that 80% of people will find browser-based suites provide all they need. Desktop suites will be consigned to power users.

But what hasn't changed is the basic package - word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software.

I think it's time for another look at this triumvirate. User interfaces have moved on massively since then, and so has the underlying technology; HTML, CSS and javascript are great general purpose tools. The internet is a distribution model that supports new ideas and niche applications.

So why not start from the beginning? What do people use office applications for? Does it truly split into three different use cases (spreadsheet, word processor, and presentation)?

I often see spreadsheets with paragraphs of text in them - which surely is best done in a word processor. And I've lost count of how many word documents or presentations with embedded tables of data I've seen.

So why not combine them all into one application? Imagine a WYSIWYG web page editor, where you could drag and drop text and shapes around the page. And further, imagine you could add tables to the page - each having full spreadsheet power (functions, financial / date-time formatting, sort, filter, etc). Just like spreadsheets, each table cell can depend on any HTML element on the page (or any other URL) for its value.

It isn't too tricky to combine applications if you leave out the bloat - adding power user features is the main approach Microsoft has taken to persuade us to upgrade.

And by combining applications into one, users are freed from having to make the choice of format (is this a Word Document or Powerpoint deck) that often seems arbitary at the beginning.

Microsoft themselves often hinted, during the 90s, that the future lay in integrating office applications. In the end, they settled with clunky COM components, inserting for example whole Excel spreadsheets inside Word documents, which is visually a mess.

I've played round with a few concepts and reckon that it's easily possible to write a combined suite using simply HTML, CSS and javascript (with VML / SVG to support drawing).

So come on, does anyone fancy helping me create a concept website?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Nice Blog .I think HR understands the importance of other people tracking time--IT, Lawyers, non-exempt employees, but struggles with the idea of web time clock .