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Learnings from Excel

Business people love Excel…but why? Because Excel allows us to do almost everything. From simple tables, sheets with complex calculations under the covers to complete applications with a “real” backend - everything is possible with Excel. It even manages to trick us into believing that even the most sophisticated spreadsheets do not have anything to do with programming. But is it really so different from programming? Or is a Mylyn filtered Eclipse workspace actually remarkably similar to a filtered table that directly highlights the relevant data? What other commonalities do exist and what can we learn from Excel and its users - the business people, requirements engineers and analysts?

Since many years we tried to close the gap between programmers and business people with DSLs (Domain Specific Languages) - formal languages, that use the vocabulary and the notation of the domain experts. We tried graphical, text-based or best of breed approaches (read: graphical and textual). But to be honest, we rarely managed to define a language, that convinced the business people. After all, we were still building “just” another scary IDE. Turns out, that nothing cloaks a programming environment as Excel does.

Not even web based editors for DSLs helped to mitigate that problem. They helped to reduce the entry barrier, but business people want to have forms and diagrams and fancy notations with custom domain specific symbols, like in insurance mathematics. Despite the full unicode charset, these expectations are hard to meet with plain text. Looking at other approaches, like projectional editors (learning from Excel again), the mixture of different representations becomes easier.

In this session, we would like to show you where we see the problem and what the next steps could be to make business people using DSLs to finally close the gap and trick them into programming even without Excel.

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Learnings from Excel

  1. 1. Learnings from Excel Holger Schill Sebastian Zarnekow itemis
  2. 2. Disclaimer No Github URL in this talk.
  3. 3. Prejudices • Devs: Business Experts Cannot Code • Business Experts: We Don’t Want to Code
  4. 4. Excel is Coding Claim:
  5. 5. Excel vs Coding Standard API Variable Declarations (Named Cells) Arrays, Structs, Strings, …
  6. 6. Doesn’t Look Like IDE Yet It’s Coding!
  7. 7. Excel is Coding Multi Notation - Tabular and Graphical / Diagrams Live Evaluation and Dynamic Filtering I18n Semantic Highlighting Find References
  8. 8. Excel is Coding Web Editor Parallel Editing …
  9. 9. Towards Business DSLs Domain Specific Multi-Notation Editor Collaboration and Parallel Editing State of the Art Appearance and Usability Low Entry Barrier Greatly Customizable
  10. 10. Web + Xtext 
 + GEF 
 + MPS 
 + Cloud + Collaboration + More Acronyms = :( All the Cool Things™
  11. 11. We listen to you.