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Subject: Re: [office-formula] Include user interface?

As I understand it, the vast majority (and I mean vast) of 
spreadsheets use very little of this functionality. Some simple 
arithmetic MAYBE plus the SUM function. References to cells 
sometimes, and much less frequently to cells on related sheets. Very 
few use variables. Is this true? Do we have a real survey? I heard 
that Lotus did one many years ago, is there anything new or at least 
access to that data?

I think the key is that if a capability is implemented it be 
implemented in a fashion that lets the data files interchange easily 
and have consistent results, common documentation, test cases, etc. 
We must allow for user interface advances (which may include formula 
syntax on display and entry) and simplicity. We want even the most 
basic innovation to "go with ODF" as the basic compatibility format. 
Testing 100+ functions (let alone typing them in) is not something 
those innovators will want to do nor afford. (I remember what we had 
to do at Slate to get those done -- we had to contract out and we had 
lots of VC funding.)

I think we really need a "Level 0" that has very little. Remember, 
VisiCalc had hundreds of thousands of users with just a handful of 
functions, and of those some we used by less than 1% of the users I'm sure.

Maybe what we need is innovation on how to test for which functions 
are being used and how to fail gracefully and let the user know. 
Also, perhaps a preferred way of implementing user created functions 
that can provide those "standard" capabilities. That way if I want to 
use the PDA version but really need a matrix multiply or complex 
divide I can do it by just getting one from a kind provider of such 
extensions or write it myself from the ODF spec (and hopefully let 
others know it's available).


At 06:33 PM Monday 2/27/2006, David A. Wheeler wrote:
>Again, I'm splitting out the email into topics, summarizing, and 
>then commenting.
>This email is about user interfaces, and whether they should be in scope.
>>* Scope: Define this specification as ONLY an interchange format, 
>>and at most RECOMMEND user interface issues?
>Mecir believes we SHOULD recommend some user interface issues, e.g.,
>"operator X can also be presented to the user in the form Y, but 
>must always be saved as X - for all cases where it matters."
>When I say "UI", I mean "how the formula is perceived by the USER":
>do you use commas or semicolons to separate function parameters, and so on.
>Mecir says: "the user-perceived format would usually be pretty 
>similar to the storage format
>- because there's no reason why not."  Agreed.
>But Mecir says: "the test-cases show exactly that - user-perceived version."
>No, the test cases of OpenFormula show the STORAGE version
>(except for XML-quoting special characters like <). For example,
>I know of NO spreadsheet implementations where users MUST surround
>cell references with [..], but the interchange syntax of OpenFormula
>demands it.... and so the test cases do too.
>"I would suggest that we say, user-perceived version should look 
>like this, unless you have a good reason to differ."
>Problem is, everyone has a good reason.  Some implementations, like 
>Quattro Pro, actually have skinnable syntaxes -- they vary their 
>display syntax, depending on a user setting.  Most implementations' 
>function names vary depending on the locale (they translate function 
>names to the local language).  Many implementations' decimal point 
>(comma or period) also vary depending on the locale.
>It would be NIFTY if everyone would agree to a common display 
>format, and then made
>the storage format identical (or nearly so).  But what's the common format?
>Excel, Gnumeric, SheetToGo all use "," for function parameters, 
>which is horrific
>if you want to support locales where "," is the decimal separator.
>They also use "," for the "union" operator (how silly!).
>Is ".." or ":" the range operator? Is "=" or "==" equal-to?
>And if cell references aren't surrounded by [..], there are nasty 
>ambiguity problems
>that are no problem for human-written text, but as a storage format 
>it's terrible.
>We could devise a RECOMMENDED user interface format; that'd be great.
>There might still be occasional variance between that and
>the storage format (e.g., [..] as a cell reference marker).
>Otherwise, is QT3 a variable, or a cell in a spreadsheet with lots of columns?
>But I'd hate to MANDATE that.
>--- David A. Wheeler

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