They may be the next wave for spreadsheets, but we hope you haven’t been holding your breath. Some trends take years and years to take hold, and this one has already been 10+ years in the making. And so have been the articles and blogs about Web Based spreadsheets, where you can embed the right piece of your finances precisely where they are needed, regardless if it’s a wiki, a PDF, a Blog, a mobile app, or whereever. Eventually their day will come, and this time it’s likely sooner rather than later.
There are the usual players in the space. Microsoft, of course, with Office Web controls, Sharepoint, Office Live, and the much anticipated Office 365. Google Docs absolutely is big on the radar. And there is Zoho, who arguably is winning in their sector of the market.
But none of those online offerings have changed how Free Enterprise works, even though the idea whiteboarded so nicely! So what is holding it back? Take a moment and play with a sample embedded sheet up in the cloud, and you’ll come to a few conclusions quickly (go ahead, click around, change some formulas, and even try full screen mode).
The problem with any web application is, sooner or later, you need a feature or other piece of richness (aka: the big hammer) found only in a rich mature full blown product such as Excel, and noticably lacking in any of the credible web alternatives. Anyone offering a sub-set of functionality, especially when it comes to the number of rows & columns a web based product can handle, can do nothing more than win a small faithful following of non-enterprise users … UNLESS some other paradigm shift accompanies it.
Well, wasn’t that “shift” the web itself? With it’s WWW, HTML, XML, and dot COMs? Apparently not. The web never displaced the local network in terms of features, reliability, speed, capacity, and trust, and the back-end never replaced the raw crunching power of local clients even though both were travelling along the Moore’s Law highway.
But Clouds… that buzzword that crops up everywhere, including where it shouldn’t, that new fabric which promises to add TEETH to SAAS…, clouds can shift the paradigm off the local net over to the virtual air of hidden computing power.
Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are going head-to-head on the Cloud, and all this is happening right now. Music in the clouds is leading the way. To be sure, there will be good days, and bad. Successes, and failures. And when it comes to YOUR data and your spreadsheets, you can not gamble on the bleeding edge. But you should still be prepared to test out the waters, put in a toe, and see how long you can stand the cold. Things will trend over in the years ahead, and the water won’t be bad once you’re in it, so stay open minded to the idea and up to date on the trends.
This does not discount the requirement that the web UI must credibly match the richness found on the desktop, and the present state of web controls for tasks such as spreadsheets is a mediocre 50% at best. Are the application players paying homage to their own strategic interests by not eliminating all the barriers to rich web UI? It’s a tough problem to solve, and the high ground goes to whomever gets there first.
Do you feel that Clouds are more of a foggy promise than platform firma? Please leave a comment.