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Help Wanted: Add-in versus Web Application?

Posted in UC3

I recently updated this site with a page listing the DCXL Requirements.  These five requirements are the basic feature set and capabilities we would like have for the Excel Add-in that is to be developed in the course of the project.  The engineering team at Microsoft Research checked out our requirements and had a (rather surprising) suggestion: instead of an add-in, they recommended a web-based application.

Add-ins are little pieces of software that you can download to extend the capabilities of a program – in our case, Microsoft Excel.  Synonyms for add-inare plug-in and add-on.  They are downloaded, installed, and then appear within a specific program. An add-in for Excel would appear in the Excel “ribbon”, and would add new features to Excel.

A web-based application is something a bit different. It’s a software system designed to support “machine-to-machine interaction over a network”.  Web applications require the web (shocking, I know) and do not require that you download a program.  Instead, you use an internet connection and the web-based application. Basically, these are web sites that do more than just display information – they do something with the information or files provided by the user, on the user’s behalf. Web sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and SkyDrive are examples of web applications.

So I turn to you, community: what are your thoughts on this?  Make your voice heard!  You can email me directly, comment on the blog below, or come on down to CDL‘s Downtown Oakland office and tell me in person.  But please comment quickly – this decision needs to be made soon.  You can also vote using the quick poll in the sidebar to the right of this post.  We want to know what you think!

To help you formulate intelligent comments, here’s a rough comparison of the two options:

Add-in: The user would download the add-in for use on the current machine. They could perform the above tasks via a new “ribbon” that appears at the top of the Excel window.  They would be able to perform the above tasks on their current spreadsheet.

Web application: The user would go to the website hosting the web application. They would upload (drag-and-drop) a spreadsheet to the site.  They could then perform the above tasks to the spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet could then be downloaded back onto their PC.

Office Add-In Web-Based Application
Platform Compatibility Windows only Any
Spreadsheet compatibility Different add-in for each Excel version One application covers multiple versions; potential future expansion to SQL, CSV, XML, Open Office, GoogleDocs etc
Download necessary? Yes No
Software updates Fixed bugs require download & re-install No download/re-install necessary
Cloud-based? No Yes
Offline use? Yes No; potential future for HTML5 and offline use
Languages C#/.NET C/C++ HTML/JavaScript C#/ASP.NET
Has all the functionality of Excel Yes No

And here are the basic capabilities we want, regardless of which of the two options above becomes a reality:

  1. Must work for Excel users without the add-in
  2. No additional software (other than add-in and Excel) necessary
  3. Can be used offline
  4. Perform CSV compatibility checks, reporting, and automated fixes
  5. Add Metadata to data file
    1. Can use existing metadata as a template
    2. Add-in can automatically generate some of the metadata where the info is available from the file
  6. Generate a citation for the data file
  7. Deposit data and metadata in a repository

Download the complete requirements as a PDF: DCXL Requirements

From Flickr by Thewmatt

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