Excel ecosystem

Nick Hebb has an interesting post here where he talks about the uphill battle Google have against MS Office. A key factor being the ecosystem that has built up around many of MS products.

I agree that is an important factor and one that will take any competitor many years to compete with. But it wouldn’t take long for Microsoft to destroy it, or at least make it vulnerable.

To be honest I think Microsoft gave the ecosystem (the Office developer part) a pretty good kicking with the UI incompatibilities in Excel 2007, and with the VB6-VB.net mess. As I see it many of the valuable contributors to the ecosystem are experienced users, and the ribbon pain seems to increase in relation to comfort with the 2003 style UI. (I can’t bring myself to say menu+toolbar system, because thats all the ribbon is, all they did was shuffle things around to make it harder for advanced users).

I’m not convinced the ecosystem has turned against MS, or away from Excel, but I do think it could be more ‘pro’ Office 2007. I seem to remember 2003 was met with massive apathy, as there seemed so few useful new features compared to 2002/2000. For 2007, I don’t see much ‘buzz’ positive or negative. Its the Excel ‘alternatives’ such as Google Docs and Apple iWork Numbers that seem to be making the news. (Apart from the recent calculation excitement of course).

(I find it ironic that many people access the Microsoft.Public newsgroups via Google Groups)

What do you think? have you noticed any impact in the on-line communities?

cheers

Simon

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13 Responses to “Excel ecosystem”

  1. Harlan Grove Says:

    I’m one of those who access newsgroups via Google. The advantage vis a vis Microsoft’s own browser portal to its ‘communities’ is that Google Groups sorts threads by the date of the LATEST posting in the thread while Microsoft sorts by the date of the original (so OLDEST) posting. PITA in the latter following threads in newsgroups with high posting volume.

    As for the ribbon, worth looking at the demos of Office 2008 (for Macs) to see that Microsoft CAN and apparently has developed an Office UI that combines aspects of the ribbon along with a menu. Of course they had no choice about providing a menu on Macs. Pity they can do whatever they want with Windows versions of Office.

    Back to the newsgroups. There still aren’t all that many questions about Excel 2007 specifically. That may mean that current Excel 2007 users divide nicely into those who know enough about Excel to figure out 2007 on their own and the rest who don’t even know about newsgroups. From my perspective the only compelling new feature is structured referencing in tables (and it’s half-baked without structured row selection/filtering syntax) [bigger grid and new color/symbol eye candy likely to cause more trouble than benefit; most other features amount to finally catching up with 123, gnumeric or OpenOffice], but there have been very, very few questions concerning tables and structured references.

  2. Simon Says:

    I’m using Thunderbird now for newsgroups, its fast, I like it. There are a few 2007 posts in crashesgpfs ;-)

  3. Ross Says:

    I use thuderbird for all my mail, it’s cleaner and smaller than OL, but for news groups i have always used google, miles better than anthing else in IMHO.

  4. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    There is something ironic about Google Docs, especially when you see it in the angle of the Microsoft marketing guy, i.e. along the line that anything non-Microsoft is second-class citizen.

    Well, take a look at this : Google Docs integrates very well with other services, for instance Gmail. Don’t see yet where this goes? Contrary to Microsoft Office documents which can embed viruses (macros, …), the very reason that Google Docs does not support said macros implies that there cannot be any form of such trouble for users in that environment. Think of the money saved on that one alone. Bottom line : you are safe (from a macro perspective) if you are using Google Docs to open, edit those documents. And NOT with the Microsoft environment, no matter how native or rich it feels.

    Isn’t security suppsed to be a concern for corporate people? If the answer is yes, how come nobody says that the typical rant from Microsoft about their competitors “they just support a fraction of what MS Office supports”, actually becomes an advantage?

  5. sam Says:

    Stephane…when was the last time you heard of a organisation/individual hit by a office macro virus…Last time it happed to me was in 97 ….

    “Isn’t security suppsed to be a concern for corporate people?”
    Yes but I think today the threat of a macro virus is really really low…

    Sam

  6. Jon Peltier Says:

    Stephane said: “Contrary to Microsoft Office documents which can embed viruses (macros, …)”

    As Sam points out, there have been few macro viruses in the past decade. I remember LaRoux, both the XLM and the XL5-VBA versions.

    The flip side of Stephane’s comment is that you can use VBA to embed remarkable capabilities into an Office document. Can Google apps, or even OpenOffice do this? not to anywhere near the same extent.

  7. Simon Says:

    I think this functionality v security argument is hot and getting hotter. I fear its going to be used to hobble VBA before a viable more secure alternative is available. Or should that be ‘apparently more secure’?
    Conspiracy theorists might suggest some serious VBA malware in the next 12-24 months could help drive migration away from VBA to .net maybe.

  8. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    If you guys were saying the truth, Microsoft would not have gone out of his ways introducing a separate and exclusive macro-enabled file format in Excel 2007, along with tightening the execution security with a trust center. That certainly is an answer to what corporations are asking for.

    To understand my point, you have to remember VBA includes the ability to import any function call of the OS, it’s not just a programming language targetting the Excel OM. Therefore the security issues (and interoperability issues too, but that’s another story).

    I think it cannot be under-estimated how better it is to be able to open email attachments in Gmail (Word, Excel, Powerpoint documents) without the fear that it’s going to do harm. And that’s a seamless experience too, no pop ups, which is another benefit.

  9. Harlan Grove Says:

    As long as VBA has the ability to save the current file under any valid filename, VBA will be risky. Without the ability to save either ThisWorkbook or ActiveWorkbook, VBA wouldn’t be nearly as useful.

    What we could have used but haven’t been given and likely never will receive is a security model that provided multiple operational levels with, say, only the most permissive level allowing Declare and Shell calls, the next level allowing Kill, Name, Open For Output and similar potentially destructive file system calls. The next level (3rd most permissive) allowing OM file save operations, the level after that allowing potentially internally destuctive OM method calls, and the final level allowing nothing more than UDFs and not possibly destructive OM method calls.

    Another useful feature to have had, and one that the new XLSX file format does NOTHING to protect against, would be a workbook-level macro security setting to disable all OM method calls affecting that workbook. Since Excel/VBA already prevents OM method calls during UDF execution, there’s ALREADY a way to lock Excel down. Greater granularity and developer-level control, taking advantage of this lock-down, would have been a good thing.

  10. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    Harlan said “As long as VBA has the ability to save the current file under any valid filename, VBA will be risky. Without the ability to save either ThisWorkbook or ActiveWorkbook, VBA wouldn’t be nearly as useful.”

    This is fixed by moving users to roles. The bulk of users in one role (default) simply can’t Save, what they can do is Publish (versioned, centralized). Only a minority of users have a different role. Isn’t this what Excel + Excel services is moving to?

    “What we could have used but haven’t been given and likely never will receive is a security model that provided multiple operational levels with, say, only the most permissive level allowing Declare and Shell calls,”

    Sounds like Vista UAC for Excel developers. Again, this is just a variant of roles.

    “Another useful feature to have had, and one that the new XLSX file format does NOTHING to protect against, would be a workbook-level macro security setting to disable all OM method calls affecting that workbook.”

    Roles again solve this (supporting the disconnected scenario with retained security).

    I think it’s clear where we are headed.. :-)

  11. Harlan Grove Says:

    Are you sure roles will prevent macros in workbook B from affecting workbook A in the same Excel session? Maybe if both A and B were opened via Excel services, but what if B were opened from the user’s own local drives? Would Excel’s OM be able to prevent macros in B from affecting A? I suppose it could if A were somehow running under Excel Services and was more or less just displayed in the desktop Excel session in which B were open. But if A and B were both open in the same desktop Excel session but somehow Excel Services were able to control what that desktop Excel session’s OM instance could do with A, could Excel Services do anything to B? If it could, Excel Services could open up a whole new class of problems.

    I have no experience with Excel Services, and I’m unlikely to ever get any if I remain working for my current employer. I do have experience with Lotus Notes and its roles, both access roles and execution roles. Notes has had the ability to apply different roles to different SECTIONS of forms for several versions. Excel Services would need to allow for different roles at RANGE level to match this granularity. Will it?

  12. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    “Are you sure roles will prevent macros in workbook B from affecting workbook A in the same Excel session?”

    Yes because in a session you only work on copies of workbooks. Copies can’t possibly affect the reference workbooks.

    “Excel Services would need to allow for different roles at RANGE level to match this granularity. ”

    Yes that’s among the things you define at publish time : who has the right to view range A. There are definitely other features you might be interested in, such as remote ranges. In fact, plenty of VBA code (by today’s regime) makes no longer sense in this client-server (or client-http-server, depending on what you choose) environment.

  13. StareClips.com Says:

    I think it is worth mentioning that Google Docs will soon support scripting (macros.)

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