Following on from the review of Worksheet Server, had a fascinating chat with Kristian Raue, founder of Jedox Gmbh, to find out more about Worksheet Server from the source…
Can you tell us a little about your background in IT and why you founded Jedox Gmbh?
Before starting Jedox in June 2002, I was CEO of a spreadsheet and OLAP-centric software and consulting company called IntelliCube Software AG. Intellicube’s flagship product was a Windows based Spreadsheet technology, geared to handle data from OLAP Servers. When IntelliCube was sold to German based MIS AG, I saw the opportunity to take my spreadsheet expertise and apply it to developing web technology. To date Microsoft has shown no interest in providing a web based infrastructure for Microsoft Excel so the creation of Worksheet-Server seemed a logical step for me.
Why did you choose PHP for Worksheet Server? Wouldn’t Microsoft’s ASP 3.0 have been a better choice?
There a several reasons: PHP is available on almost all hosted servers, it is very easy to learn and I was particularly fascinated how easily PHP handles variables and arrays.
Also, with Microsoft changing its technology paths every second year, I didn’t want to rely on Microsoft Technology anymore.
More generally, what seems to me a common pattern today is Microsoft encouraging third parties to develop software products under Windows but, once a product is successful, Microsoft delivers a similar solution bundled with their OS or with one of their mainstream products. This is another reason, why I decided not to invest any more money for Microsoft specific software development.
How long did Worksheet Server take to develop?
We started development in the year 2000.
Who are the other members of the development team at Jedox?
Basically it is a team of 4 developers based in Freiburg and in Bremen (Germany).
Based on the customers and partner referenced on the Jedox website, marketing of Worksheet server seems to be focused primarily on German-speaking Europe. Do you have plans to expand into English speaking markets?
Yes, we already have the first prospects in the US and Canada and we have already sold Worksheet-Server to customers Australia and New Zealand. But to be really successful in these markets, we really need local partners. We are currently looking for software and consulting companies, who want to be partners, particularly, but not limited, in English speaking countries.
What type of applications are your customers building with Worksheet Server?
The spectrum of applications is as broad as the use of Microsoft Excel itself. Most common is companies using Worksheet-Server for finance applications in controlling, budgeting, sales forecast, etc. But you also find applications in the field of statistics, technology and agriculture.
Worksheet-Server is useful for all companies and organisations that need to collect information from different locations or departments and aggregate that data into a central database.
What type of response do you get from customers, once they start working with Worksheet Server? What impact does it have on they way they work? How much additional support and help does Jedox typically need to provide new customers?
So far we have a very positive feedback from our customers. And often we are astonished how little support they need to get going with Worksheet-Server. They usually get the basic functionality running without the help of our support department. Only if it comes to integrating user defined PHP scripts in the applications then there is some need for support.
Keep in mind that, for most of our customers, PHP-based Worksheet-Server extensions are their first contact with PHP at all. So we are doing some basic PHP training here.
What do you most like / dislike about PHP?
There is a lot I like. For example the fact that it is a weakly typed language and, as such, similar to cells in an Excel spreadsheet. I also like the completeness of the language; everything is available: XML, SOAP, Mail, everything at your fingertips. Most of all, I admire the way PHP allows you to create arrays of arrays of … anything you like.
What I dislike? Well it would be nice if you could omit arguments in a function call, like myfunction(23,,43). Perhaps PHP could insert a NULL value for the missing argument.
How do customers typically react to PHP? How easy is it for an experienced Excel user, with Visual Basic knowledge, to switch to PHP?
The customers are very open to PHP. We found some of our larger customers were already using it for other projects but even beginners have few problems switching from VBA to PHP.
What new features are you planning for Worksheet Server?
In the upcoming service release you will see the possibilty to link Worksheet-Server applications, even if they reside on different servers. That way it is possible to create whole networks of interdependent Worksheet-Server applications.
We will also shortly be releasing a client application for Microsoft Excel that allows users to link Excel cells with individual Worksheet-Server cells dynamically. Whenever Excel reculatates it will draw the newest results from Worksheet-Server and display the values automatically in Excel.
Given as much time / money as you need, what (crazy) ideas would you love to realise?
Create a really workflow-oriented mail client and remove MS Outlook from my desktop.
Thanks for your time Kristian.