Spreadsheet calls over the Internet?
Saturday, April 28, 2007 by Dave Winer.
I like having a spreadsheet around, but until Google came out with their browser-based spreadsheet, I hadn't used one in many years. I find Office too much software, and all the other spreadsheets I had learned either didn't run on my machine or weren't being actively maintained. Without thinking much I had stopped using them.
But now I use it for all kinds of little tasks that require an array of values, or a bit of calculation. Now I'd like to start building more of my life around a spreadsheet, to use it to monitor various processes on my servers, but to do this, there will have to be a protocol for plugging web apps into the spreadsheet.
It would work just like a built-in spreadsheet function except the call would go out over the net, run the procedure on the indicated server, and display the value it returns, formatted according to how the spreadsheet author says it should be formatted.
The server url would include a protocol, server name, port and path. I would recommend doing XML-RPC first, it's the simplest, most uniformly implemented RPC out there. You'd have to do some form of SOAP, and extend REST with standards for serializing and de-serializing parameter lists and returned values (or you could adopt the serialization format from one of the other protocols).
Interestingly, this is one of the demos Microsoft did for Multiplan for the IBM-PC in the early 80s when it was competing with Visicalc. Then, it was a good vision, but impractical. Today it's practical and would be very useful and would lead to many interesting apps, perhaps even businesses.