Sun's Schwartz says AJAX to play a role in OpenOffice. Here's my bet on how.

Sun's Schwartz says AJAX to play a role in OpenOffice. Here's my bet on how.

Summary: A few weeks back when Google and Sun started dropping hints that the two were on the verge of co-announcing something big, the odds-on favorite was some sort of AJAX-based version of (OO.

TOPICS: Software

A few weeks back when Google and Sun started dropping hints that the two were on the verge of co-announcing something big, the odds-on favorite was some sort of AJAX-based version of ajaxpullquote.jpg(OO.o).  Even after the announcement was over and the press and analysts were walking away shaking their heads asking "That's it?  Nothing else?," the obsession over OO.o and the possible AJAXizing of it has continued to get attention despite the fact that nothing of the sort has been announced by anybody.  And it won't be.  In fact, it will never be.  Sun president and COO Jonathan Schwartz practically said as much in his most recent blog (see, AJAX, and Common Sense).  But did we really need Schwartz to tell us that you can't take a full-blown front office suite where the majority of the code runs on the client and make it run in a browser?

It's one thing to take client/server applications where the client can easily get away with using nothing but forms  to interact with a server that's doing the lion's share of the data processing (usually involving a database) and to browserize it the way has browserized Customer Relationship Management.  It's another to take a 100 percent client-side application that, in producing highly unstructured data goes way beyond forms, and figure out a way to move most if not all of the processing over to a server.

Forms are an integral part of the Web and there couldn't be a better example of overkill than the one where one throws a bloated client at a client/server application where the client's responsibility is something as simple and lightweight as forms.  Browserizing forms applications makes perfect sense.  Google has done a terrific job using AJAX to browserize e-mail.  No surprise there.  E-mail is basically a form.  It's also a client/server app.  Some of the processing (ok, most) was already done on the server.  Come to think of it, e-mail can't exist without a server.  Today's full-blown front office applications can and do. 

So, what role, if any, can AJAX play in the OO.o ecosystem? Perhaps some hints lie in Schwartz's blog where he says:

Could these apps I mention, above, be enhanced with better network connectivity, more collaboration, and better integration into your daily life? Absolutely.....So if you want to know what the future portends for, that's a fine place to start (and AJAX will likely play a role).

What Schwartz doesn't say is as important as what he says.  If you were an OO.o user that wanted OO.o better integrated into your daily life, and you wanted to use OO.o to collaborate with other people,  and you wanted OO.o to have better connectivity, then what would you be integrating with, collaborating over, and connecting to?  Imagine if you were able to integrate into any device we have access to (anywhere, anytime), collaborating over any document, and connecting to any storage repository?  Schwartz talks a lot about value and if Microsoft Office teaches us one thing, it's that we're largely being deprived of its full potential by virtue of the fact that it doesn't do any of those three things very easily. 

For example, find four friends, and amongst the five of you, give one a Blackberry, another a Pocket PC, put two other ones at Web terminals in different locations and sit yourself at a Windows PC with MS Office. Start by creating a document that all must contribute to, edit, and approve and give yourselves an hour to get it done.  After your first attempt, let your friends take turns starting the document (after all, one key to collaboration is that anyone can kick the process off).  OK, let's be fair to MS-Office.  If you try the same exercise with OO.o, you'll get the same results.  But thanks to technologies like AJAX and standards like the OpenDocument Format, the opportunity for liberation exists.

Considering all of the things that have already been accomplished in this day and age of the connected world, it's shameful for something that, in theory seems so simple, to be in practice barely possible (and even then, only very painfully so). 

So, how can AJAX play a role in making OO.o better on the integration, collaboration, and connectivity fronts?  Schwartz may have left us guessing, but the answer is rather obvious to me.  The challenge isn't in using AJAX to browserize OO.o.  The challenge is to use whatever languages are appropriate to create peers with which OO.o can easily interact.  This is one reason Schwartz writes (in boldface) "The language in which a product is written has nothing to do with the value it conveys."  

In the course of getting a BlackBerry, a PocketPC, a Web Terminal, and a Word Processor (the one in MS-Office or OO.o, doesn't matter) to successfully collaborate with each other, the choice of a single language is irrelevant.   In fact, it's impossible. The BlackBerry uses Java.  The PocketPC uses a .NET Compact language (could be C# or VB.NET), and the word processors are done in C and/or C++.  What is relevant is that they can all interact on as rich a level as possible with the same documents located in repositories of collaborators' choosing. 

Much the same way that more Web sites make browsers more useful, and the way more Bittorrent servers make Bittorent clients more useful, AJAX will make OO.o more useful because, by virtue of solutions that we haven't seen or heard of yet (some of which will undoubtedly come out of the Sun-Google relationship), the number of people (aka: the size of the community) who can interact with OO.o-generated documents at any time, from any place, using any browser will probably be greater than the sum total of all users who have both OO.o and Microsoft Office. 

More importantly, although they will be enablers, neither AJAX, nor OO.o (nor Java for that matter) are responsible for this sort of document and collaboration liberation.  For that, look no further than the OpenDocument Format (ODF) with which the newly released OO.o 2.0 is compliant and with which future ODF-compliant peers, be they developed in Java, AJAX, C/C++, Perl, or whatever, will be able to interact.  Will they be able to do to an ODF document what a full blown office suite can do?  No.  Will they be able to offer the sort of interactions that will suffice for basic business document creation, storing, retrieval, editing, and collaboration?  Clearly, at some level, yes.  What level exactly?  It's hard to tell. In coming up with its user experience for e-mail, Google (in its Web-based GMail) sacrificed return receipt. So far, the sacrifice doesn't seem to have bothered many people.  In terms of working with ODF-compliant documents, a Web terminal that supports Java may be more capable (in terms of what it can do with an ODF-compliant document) than may a plain Web terminal where AJAX is as rich as the platform gets. For every device, there will be sacrifices.  They'll be worth it.

And, to all you scrooges out there who are so quick to shoot down something we should have had years ago, perhaps you should consider how much better off we are with the monolithic way things are today.

Topic: Software

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  • maybe a different approach to spreadsheets

    How about you pressed a button "new dataset", and entered in a
    small spreadsheet a set of results. As part of the creation
    wizard, you enter "Sales figures" year "2003" department
    Then you enter sales by month.
    Now you're back at list of datasets, and have "Widget sales
    figures 2003" listed in your datasets.

    Press one button to get the data presented in different ways:
    graph (inc 3d VRML graph), curve fittings, graph compared with
    Widget sales figures 2004, or statistical analyses: mean, std

    Press another button to get google to try to correlate it with a
    set of public data such as orange juice sales in california, or the
    position of polaris in the sky, perhaps skewed by 4 months.
    { google might be able to correlate against billions of public sets
    of data using some fancy search algorithm }.

    Press another button to add a calculated "column" (say sales
    tax), or another to total all "widget" "sales figures" or all "sales
    figures" (widgets and other departments).

    See how this would be more powerful than a regular
    spreadsheet. By telling the system a little bit more about your
    data as you enter it, far simpler and more powerful tools can be
    used on the data very easily.

    Anything like a graph you viewed would have a button "save to
    scratchpad" for insertion for example into a AJAX presentation
    tool. The output of the AJAX presentation tool could be a bunch
    of pictures you load into Google Picassa and press "slideshow".
    • Metadata

      The future of the web depends on metadata (i.e. telling the system a little bit more about your
      data as you enter it), so your idea has merit.
      Roger Ramjet
  • So OpenOffice may one day have SharePoint.

    • I agree

      shrug is about it.

      I've looked into Share Point, useless for 99% of the people out there. But for that 1% it's gold. I some how doubt that 1% is even going care if OO has that solution some years from now.
    • It'll do two things

      First, it will help bring prices down. A little competition is always good for the market.

      Second, it will help educate people as to what Sharepoint actually does. It seems as if the people who complain about Sharepoint the most are those who are unfamiliar with it (I'll even admit I'm not as familiar with it as I should be). If there is a free (as in cost) version of it maybe people will start tinkering and become more familiar with it.
      Michael Kelly
    • Who cares about a 1% solution?

      SharePoint (based upon Microsofts own numbers) is only 1% of the market and is only for small workgroups. Besides, we have hade collaboration servers back in 1998, long before SharePoint was even an idea at Microsoft.

      Hasn't everoyne on these boards been using things like NNTP, Usenet, E-Mail, DAV, SCCS, RCS, CVS and all that stuff from the early to mid 90's?
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but MS has had this for a while

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding what David's talking about exactly, but MS already has a technology that is part of their Office division, and is available to the public as a paid service, called LiveMeeting. It enables real-time collaboration with anything really, since it's more of a presentation and general collaboration technology. I know MS didn't invent it. They bought the company that created it, but MS has been offering it for more than a year. For David to say that "you can't do this with MS Office" is off base. The technology for collaboration on Windows has been around for a while.

    Not sure, however, if it offers collaboration on all devices, as David describes.
    Mark Miller
    • Berlind is not interested in using MS products.

      It may not have been stated directly, but it has been clearly implied in his many articles. Berlind is looking for anything OTHER than a MS product.
      • Nonsense

        Berlind has even done some VERY enthusiastic analysis of Vita beta. Unlike many other anti- or pro-MS bloggers in ZDNet, David Berlind IS unbiased.
  • As I see it...

    David, as I understand it, you are saying that there is an opportunity for the server to do some crunching on documents which are in ODF format, and then send an approriate version to the client device, depending on its capabilities. In other words, you don't need a fully rendered document if all you want to do is edit a paragraph in the middle of it. You may also want to ignore graphics and other embedded objects, in much the same way as you can disable the downloading of images in a web browser. Is this right?
  • Sun's Schwartz says AJAX to play a role in OpenOffice. Here's my bet on how

    One of the problems with this approach of the ajax office is file sharing. How are your users going to create a document then share it amongst their department or send it off to customers? What if data needs to be changed and saved, how are they going to do that? This might be good and well for the 1 user approach, but when multiple users get involved I think it will launch some problems.
    Loverock Davidson
  • How about an AJAX WebBrowser

    A Browser in a browser.

    We can visit the banned website with it ?
  • But what about

    But what about using Sharepoint for collaboration? It must be a real good solution because Sharepoint is selling like crazy.,5364,1865-72820,00.html