Bricklin cleans up wikiCalc with AJAX

Summary:Two months ago, I wrote about the newest innovation to come out of electronic spreadsheet co-inventor Dan Bricklin's garage: wikiCalc.  Back then, I wrote: To the extent that Wikis make collaboration on Web-based documents simple but are sorely lacking in their ability to easily control the overall presentation and format of those documents (colors, fonts, and positioning of text or tabular data that may or may not require tabulation), the alpha 0.

Two months ago, I wrote about the newest innovation to come out of electronic spreadsheet co-inventor Dan Bricklin's garage: wikiCalc.  Back then, I wrote:

To the extent that Wikis make collaboration on Web-based documents simple but are sorely lacking in their ability to easily control the overall presentation and format of those documents (colors, fonts, and positioning of text or tabular data that may or may not require tabulation), the alpha 0.1 version of WikiCalc is not just the marriage of Wikis to spreadsheets, but also lays the foundation for a very simple yet powerful browser-based Web page publishing tool the likes of which we haven't seen yet.......an open source developer that's really comfortable with Javascript-based programming techniques such as AJAX could probably make some serious improvements to the user interface — introducing GMail-like features such as auto-save or maybe finding innovative ways to emulate the sort of cursor control that's key to cell navigation in spreadsheets but that the Web lacks (you can't use left, right, down, or up arrow to move from one cell to another like you can in spreadsheets).

As a reminder, wikiCalc isn't just a browser-based spreadsheet.  It's one that supports simultaneous use by multiple users the same way a typical wiki allows the same thing for text-based Web pages. Earlier today, in advance of tonight's Cambridge geek-eat (organized by Dave Winer) where a newer as-of-yet-unreleased alpha version of wikiCalc will be demonstrated, Bricklin gave me a preview of how much better wikiCalc gets once it gets cleaned up with AJAX.  It was pretty shocking.  Not only does it do all the things that wikiCalc alpha 0.1 did (basic calculations, Web-based collaborative spreadsheet development, support relatively standard wiki markup inside of cells, and offer fairly granular control over multi-user access), wikiCalc, much to the chagrin of those who are saying it can't be done, now feels much more like a typical spreadsheet like Excel than it did before. 

For example, with AJAX, wikiCalc now watches for any keyboard or mouse events and responds appropriately.  Right arrow.  Left arrow.  Up.  Down.  It all works.  Not only that, just like with Excel, when you leave a cell, that cell and all the other affected by it (and only those affected by it -- good for recalc performance) automatically update (before AJAX was added, this required the Web page to be refreshed).

Said Dan via email regarding his AJAXizing of wikiCalc:

wikiCalc has always used some Javascript, but in what you saw [today], the cell editing uses Javascript to process each keystroke as well as mouse clicks on cells. It uses AJAX to send cell content changes back to the server which responds with cell display value changes (e.g., the rendered value of all cells with formulas whose values changed because of the edited cell's change, or rendered HTML for updated wiki-style text). The changes sent back to the server are immediately saved in the sheet data file, it does not wait until you end an editing session. The data file is only rendered to the final HTML page when you do a Publish operation (just as before).

It doesn't really show much is screen shots are static and AJAX is all about interactivity, but here's a screen shot I took from today's preview

Topics: Hardware

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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