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Subject: Re: [office] Formulas

I hate to say it, but I really suspect we need TWO formula specifications.  Fortunately, we have namespace to allow the specification of which one is being used.

Specification 1 should be the one that comes as close as possible to being compatible with all the other spreadsheets in the world, as descended from Visicalc through 1-2-3 and Excel and on to Open Office.  That compatibility is essential, and a good spec will make it easier for implementors.

Specification 2 should be one in a coherent, reasonable syntax, along the lines suggested by Rob.  "Flag days" are impossible, but if we can gradually promote widespread read-support for spec 2, there will come a time when it is reasonable for software to begin writing it as well.  -- Nathaniel

Robert Weir/Cambridge/IBM@Lotus

11/10/2005 08:00 PM

Patrick Durusau <patrick@durusau.net>
OASIS Office <office@lists.oasis-open.org>
Re: [office] Formulas

Depends on how you define "problem".  One man's problem is another man's feature.  For example, take the needlessly byzantine syntax like 5%%.   I'd bet that this is more often entered in error by users than intentionally, and IMHO that then becomes a problem.  

One good source of known quirks and oddities is Microsoft's own support Knowledge Base:  http://support.microsoft.com/

Query on "Excel formula" and you'll get a bunch of interesting notes.

That said, I'm not sure a list of Excel bugs is the best starting point for defining a new formula syntax, unless used as a counter-example of things to avoid.    Keep it simple. As the saying goes, "Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove."    Compare an Excel formula to a C/C++/Java expression.  There is not a lot of syntax in the 15-year-old Excel syntax that really adds expressivity beyond C expressions.   But there is a lot of accumulated crud that has been maintained for backwards compatibility.  We might consider making a clean break in the interest of having a formula language which is simple enough to be evaluated by very simple programs, while be expressive enough to handle the full range of real world uses.


Patrick Durusau <patrick@durusau.net>

11/10/2005 07:04 PM

OASIS Office <office@lists.oasis-open.org>
[office] Formulas


There was extensive discussion of formulas during the call in session at
the ODF summit.

Curious if there is a listing of the known problems with Excel?

Thinking that such information, assuming that the TC undertakes work in
the area, could be usefully contributed to the TC as a background document.

Hope everyone is having a great day!


Patrick Durusau
Chair, V1 - Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface
Co-Editor, ISO 13250, Topic Maps -- Reference Model
Member, Text Encoding Initiative Board of Directors, 2003-2005

Topic Maps: Human, not artificial, intelligence at work!

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