Excel, CrowFlite, AccuTerm, etc etc
Over the years I’ve done a lot of work with the internals of Excel and most of the other Microsoft Office applications, integrating them in some way with Pick/MV business applications. Now I’m looking to do more with Excel – but what do you want to see?
I created NebulaXLite for developers to create rich workbooks from BASIC. NebulaXPlus is “in the works”, expanding on XLite with things that were off the radar when that effort was first completed. I published a utility on my freeware page which allows multiple spreadsheets to get extracted from a workbook in CSV format for import into MV. And I have something called NebulaXChange (and more info here) which is built-in to Excel to allow it to do some neat things with formulas.
So I’ve tried to cover the bases with tools from MV to Excel, and from Excel to MV, but so far I haven’t sunk my teeth too deeply into creating a product that intends to satisfy some huge need in this market … in part because I have no idea what people still need. So here we are.
When I started NebulaXChange a number of people said “hey, that’s a lot like CrowFlite”. Never having used CrowFlite I had no idea how close or how far that was. But I now have two sites that have asked me to create a nearly one-for-one replacement of CrowFlite. So that’s what I’m working on now, and yes, it’s a lot like XChange.
I’ll ask you to think about what you do with Excel. Think about how end-users use it. I hear pretty frequently that end-users will spend days reformatting raw CSV data that they get from their IT people. I strongly encourage you to do some research and see if this is the experience of users in your company or at your client sites. Also, please take a look through some of the links provided here to see what my products do.
What’s missing? What else do “we” need to make people happy? Microsoft Office has been evolving for over 15 years. It’s one of the flagship products of a company that earns billions of dollars each year. There are obviously a lot of people using this software. There has to be something that “we” can do to help people get more out of that software, as well as increasing the perceived value of the Pick/MV investment.
Do people ever say “I wish I could just press a button and ” … Have some data show up from their app? Aggregate data from different systems? Have live data display like a dashboard with gauges and bar charts moving around…? Get some kind of report that they can’t get now…? Save them days of work…?
In addition to the Nebula tools, CrowFlite, and some home grown solutions, what are people using to make Excel do cool things these days? Anything? AccuTerm has some Excel import/export functionality built in.
While I’m primarily interested in Excel, like I said, I work with other Office apps like Word and Outlook too. A couple years ago I wrote a web service interface from Outlook so when employees got inbound emails from their customers, their Universe system would get updated with info about the exchange, and the employee would be notified of anything going on with that customer. Recently I was looking at creating a Research Service for Word (sort of like a Smart Tag) where customer names and other data would be recognized from the MV back-end, or where someone typing a document could type their last name and the info might get replaced with company and open balance info.
These things and so much more are all possible. As database and application people, we dominate the back-end. We control the data. And people are always struggling to create new GUI’s. Well, Office apps are just another GUI, right along with web pages, POS terminals, and mobile phones. Since the user-base is so high for this specific UI, why not try to figure out some way to bring people the data they want to see in their UI of choice? Why do we think of data entry forms as a user interface but not a form in a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or Outlook email (appointment, task, journal, note…) Why not make use of the user interface that’s already on so many desktops… the ‘other’ one that people have open next to their browser?
In summary – I’m writing a replacement for CrowFlite now. If you have that old software, I’d like to speak with you. If you’d like to do something else, let’s talk. That “gee I wish” thing could be minutes away – tucked away in some directory on my system because I never thought anyone would want it. Let’s talk Excel – I enjoy creating new solutions. And if you have people who make extensive use of Word or Outlook, let’s talk about what they do, and what might help them to get through their days a little easier.
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