eXpresso when they bought a little start-up called Xcellery that had a neat way to collaborate using Excel. I had used the product and it worked pretty well.I first noticed
eXpresso was named as one of PC World's 25 Most Innovative Products of the Year for 2007. PC World succinctly summed the product up: "[it] allows Excel users to share their spreadsheets, online or off." eXpresso is different from the web office contenders that you normally hear about on ReadWriteWeb for three reasons:
- The company originated as an enterprise systems vendor that happened to use collaboration around Excel to deliver solutions. So they arrived at the market by way of solving real world problems as opposed to companies that look at how much money Microsoft makes with Office and saying “I want a piece of that”.
- They focus on Excel. They don’t try to replace Word, or Powerpoint or Outlook. The Office bundle was based on the logic of the OEM market for PC vendors. There is no reason to have a bundle today. A great spreadsheet can stand alone quite easily.
- They extend Excel rather than trying to replace it. That works in the real world. Apart from early adopters with relatively simple spreadsheets, people are comfortable with Excel. It works well, it is extensible, it is easy to use. In an enterprise setting the cost of Excel compared to the functionality is a complete non-issue. But Excel’s native collaboration tools are weak and emailing versions around gets to be a real pain when you get to 3 or more contributors; that introduces errors in what can be mission critical applications.
eXpresso say they want to replace Powerpoint as well. I think that’s a mistake. I would urge them to go long and deep on the Excel front. There is little logical connection or synergy between Excel and Powerpoint. The whole Powerpoint paradigm is flawed and will get replaced by Screencast and YouTube type presentations, in my opinion.
Excel really is a unique product. It could be a winner for a long time to come with some simple updating. Microsoft currently seems to want to push integration through SharePoint. Thats not want users want. The IT guys may like that and tell Microsoft thats the right way to go but Microsoft did best when the listened to users more than to IT.
Users don’t care a hoot about SharePoint but if you try taking away Excel you will hear muttering about “over my dead body”. So many start-ups have tried to create a programming environment that ordinary business people can use and nobody has succeeded. Excel delivers on this promise and has for a long time. A novice can be productive in minutes. An expert can find endless ways to add sophistication and capability.
Collaboration really is the missing piece. I used Xcellery first for a simple sales forecasting application where 4 people had to enter forecasts. It worked a treat and there was no set up or re-training required. Millions of people have the same need.
Collaboration is also easy with Excel as there is an obvious unit for the locking - a cell. This is much harder with Word and Powerpoint.
Two real world stories illustrate the power of Excel. One was the CEO of an outsourcing company who said that one of the first things they looked for was a high level of proficiency in Excel. Without that it was, pass. The other was a comment by a vendor selling high end financial trading systems about Excel replacing the browser. The IT guys in the room were aghast with horror at the idea. The users were “yep that’s right”. Excel has handled real time updates pretty well for traders for over a decade; long before Ajax.