Community content

MSDN has this feature where the community (thats us btw) can add documentation for the greater good.

(Compare and contrast with the Apple iPhone SDK NDA (finally lifted) that stopped devs even discussing issues with each other).

So thats good, they are getting the moaners to actually do something about the often criticised help.

But what about Excel?

If MS said Excel v.next will be opened up to the community. Deliver your fully tested add-in/widget to us by x, we’ll fully integration test it for 6 months, if it passes its in the box in the release version, if not its out till v.next + 1. You get credits on your ‘about’ tab but no cash.

Would you submit your tools? I think I would.

(This is not totally unprecedented btw – Solver is written by Frontline, no idea on the deal details but its a third party product in the box with Excel.)

Or even a ‘get add-ins’ menu item like ‘get extensions’ in Firefox etc. That takes you to a bunch of pre-tested-pre-approved add-ins and tools. Like Office Marketplae on steroids. Or Apple AppStore.

I think by leveraging its Ecosystem Excel could double its feature set in one version. Now, no one loves featuritis, but one persons pointless cruft is anothers sole deciding factor in buying the product. We’d just need a UI that could manage that amount of features – step forward the effluent… STOP – JOKE! (Of course the first add-in they should include is one of the de-ribbonizers)

I know traditionally MS has been wary of being seen to endorse non MS stuff, but I think the world has changed, and now they suffer more damage from not adopting these industry standards. Incorporating high quality third party add-ins should be a win win win.

Customers get the feature in the box – win

MS gets new features quickly and easily, and kudos for recognising good third party tools – win

Devs get ‘included in Excel’ credibility boost, and potential upsale opportunities – win

Whats not to love?

What do you think?

How would this affect your perception of Microsoft and Excel?

Do you think it would boost uptake of Excel v.next?

cheers

Simon

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17 Responses to “Community content”

  1. jonpeltier Says:

    1. I don’t expect MS to open up Excel to ‘in the box’ community contributions. For them it’s too much risk, too much testing, not enough payoff.

    2. The ‘Get an Add-In’ idea is reasonable, but I see it implemented as a link somewhere to Office Online, then to Office Marketplace, etc. An ability to tap into add-ins in this way appeals to me the Excel hacker, but I doubt it appeals to Joe User, who is afraid of installing anything, or to IT departments, who restrict installing anything.

  2. John Walkenbach Says:

    Interesting idea. One problem with the “in-box” approach is that most of the good add-ins are commercial products. Most developers wouldn’t want to give away their product even if it meant massive exposure.

    Another option is to include trial versions — but that would turn Office into a huge advertising vehicle.

  3. Simon Says:

    John
    Noooo don’t mention the ‘a’ word – now they’ll want to charge us! ;-)

    I’d love to know just one thing about the Frontline/solver thing – which way does the money flow? if any?

    Excel benefits from decent linear regression, Frontline benefits from upselling to a more powerful version. Its pretty even I’d have thought? (win win win right?). Excel would look pretty weedy as a spreadsheet if it didn’t have the solver functionality.

    Would you be willing to offer a reduced feature set version in the box with a view to upselling to a richer version?

    Jon the drawbacks you mention with 2 are why I think 1 is better.

    I think ‘Excel.x now with ‘super visualisation (visualization?) charting from PeltierTech’ and ‘PUP from J-Walk’ etc etc would be far more compelling than just ‘Excel.x’

    How many additional Excel licences would they have to sell to make it worthwhile? (Dunno – quite a lot at 3 for 60 quid, or whatever 2007 is retailing at). Perhaps they could just be included in the pro/ultimate versions.

    Riskwise, I can’t believe it would be bigger than slapping a new incompatible UI on most of their most critical suite?

    Testing wise – they love it, just add it to the scripts click the button, lights go dim everything tested across all execution paths.

    You’re right its a long shot, but hey, is the current approach working so well they shouldn’t consider other ideas?

  4. sam Says:

    If not the general public I think MS should at least look at the works of the MVP’s more seriously….

  5. jonpeltier Says:

    “I think ‘Excel.x now with ’super visualisation (visualization?) charting from PeltierTech’ and ‘PUP from J-Walk’ etc etc would be far more compelling than just ‘Excel.x’”

    You don’t think this sounds like a snake oil sales pitch?

    The risk is bigger using an external utility than something home grown. Never mind the resistance to the ribbon, at least it’s integrated. Many of my utilities would go into the chart wizard or in 2007 the gallery of chart types. I’m not sure they’d risk bundling a third party app that required them to rebuild dialogs or galleries.

  6. Dick Kusleika Says:

    “but I doubt it appeals to Joe User”

    I wonder if that’s changing (if slowly) due to Firefox’s robust add-in model. If people are willing to install browser add-ins, why not Excel add-ins?

  7. Simon Says:

    Jon – snake oil – well yes, but most sales stuff sounds like snake oil. I think it gives the right signs of recognising that the small team coding Excel can’t cover all the bases. And can appreciate contributions from specialists.

    I’m not saying they ‘will’ do it, or even that they ‘should’ do it , just I think in 2008 with open source powering from strength to strength its something that warrants serious consideration.

    I think 2007 installations have been pretty underwhelming, like 2003 and 2002 in their day, but for different reasons. I assume that one day they would like to get a version that is instantly popular and quickly migrated to as the new standard. Today 2 years after 2007 was released 2003 is still the ‘standard’. This could help, or it could be a maintenance and legal hell hole.

    Honestly? (IMO) They’ll never do it until total all versions of Excel is less than 70% of the spreadsheet market (by their measures). My concern is the momentum when marketshare begins to decline.

  8. Simon Says:

    Dick good point, and ff extensions have become a major factor in differentiating it from IE (which supports add-ins too).
    Although they are mainly free I guess

  9. Chandoo Says:

    This is what both google spreadsheets and zoho are already doing. They have put together a basic but compelling set of features and enabled anyone to write / upload plugins using the apis. Some *really* good charts / gadgets have come out of this.

    I guess VBA is in a way MS’ way of letting users fiddle with things and share. Just that they didnt provide a platform for safe & easy exchange of vba code. They could still do it though.

    It would be a fantastic idea if MS creates an ecosystem of vba (or whatever script they want to use in future) add-ins by community and let users access / get stuff from the spreadsheet menu.

  10. Dick Kusleika Says:

    Yeah, ‘free’ makes kind of a bid difference. I doubt I would pay for either a ff extension or a WordPress plug-in, two vibrant add-on markets.

    Chandoo: I think there’s something telling in your example. When the api is opened up, there are 30 people making charting add-ins and nobody fixing that strange, one-in-a-million random number bug. Is it inevitable that most development will migrate to one or two areas while other areas (important but less sexy) go ignored? Or am I overstating that?

  11. jonpeltier Says:

    Dick – I wonder what fraction of the Joe Sixpack user demographic even uses FireFox, let alone installs addins for it. Let me look at my old research group, comprised of about eight PhDs and a couple more MSs, plus more than a dozen technically trained college grads. We all used MS Office pretty extensively. Guess how many of this group used any Office addins? One.

    Simon – I don’t think “featuring Fred’s XXX tool” fits within the MS brand of snake oil marketing. MS is huge, and people expect them to have all the resources they need to make anything work. Admitting so boldly that they need help from outside sources must go against the grain.

    I also think technically that MS prefers building things into the core code. They don’t have enough of the open source type of mentality to promote standard addins. Of course, this might be how they start to really push VSTO addins. Gawd help us.

    Chandoo – The ecosystem exists, but not in such an organized way. And I don’t foresee MS promoting it, because they see the future as dot net and VSTO, despite the fact that VBA addins are simpler to build, easier to deploy, and have a much smaller footprint.

  12. Simon Says:

    Jon
    if they did something like this for VSTO that would be mega – its nice technology but deployment is a disaster. If they fixed that by having the infrastructure right there on every client I’d switch straight over. (As soon as it had majority marketshare of course!)

  13. brandmeter Says:

    @Dick Kusleika … I agree that when you open up the APIs no one takes responsibility for some of the bugs etc. That is where MS can take the role of fixing / motivating the community. The case for gdocs/ zoho is very weak because their market share or ability to make money out of this is very low (at this point), but MS could benefit hugely by creating and maintaining the ecosystem as it would act like barrier for people thinking to shift.

    @Jon … Agree that MS may want to go for dt net and vsto (or whatever else they fancy 2 years from now) but they can create an ecosytem around it and actively promote / moderate it nevertheless. We all think MS wont do it because that is the perception they have created in our minds over years. I guess it takes just few gutsy individuals in the office group to change that.

    @Simon … this is a good (and almost never ending) topic to discuss. Can you add subscribe to comments e-mail plug in so that it is easy to follow comments :D

  14. brandmeter Says:

    @All… this is Chandoo btw, my wordpress.com account is brandmeter

  15. Simon Says:

    Chandoo – how?
    is the comments rss at the bottom of the page not it?

  16. Stephen Bullen Says:

    All my main addins are available for free from Office Marketplace, and have been since it started. Putting it there gives the vendor an ‘in’ to the product, while also giving MS a ‘use at your own risk’ waiver. FWIW, for some months when Excel 2007 first hit the shelves, if you searched online help using the term “VBA” in UK versions, the first result was a link to PED in the Office Marketplace. Putting it in the box would require tons of extra localisation, testing, etc, that neither the vendor nor MS would want to do.

  17. Ross Says:

    I wrote a addins manage for the Excel UI, that was like the VBIDE addin manager.
    I thought that you could link a bit of this up to link into websites, download the addin, then let uses rate the addin on a stat system, that would update when the user open the manager.
    Anyway what with having to write a db to link to and get people to agree to have links to the addin and stuff – then manageing new versions and updates and all that jazz, it seemed like to much effiort!, way to much effort!

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