Many Eyes – A Web 2 Service from IBM – Graph Pretty Picture from Excel

It’s been a while since we posted a pretty picture on the blog. Not an Andrea Corr or Paris Hilton kind of pretty picture, but one to liven up the general flow of text on this site.

Just as well then that IBM has announced ManyEyes , an online Service to take boring old numbers and turn them into the kind of graphics that you see below. It’s pretty simple to use : upload your data in a table (Excel like) format, then select how you want to view it. They even provided a wizard to allow you to link the results on your own site.

For example: This is the Value of 1 US Dollar against the Other Major Currencies (Euro , Yen, Sterling , Yuan).

Interesting, in this Ajax-y world, that it’s implemented as a Java Applet. Maybe Bruce was right?

Google Spreadsheets Mean the end of Java

Or to be more accurate ‘Google Spreadsheets mean the end of Java as we know it’.
Google Spreadsheets Logo
Think about this. Who pays your wages Mr Java-Developer-who-has-just-had-a-couple-of-years-at-the-top-of-the-pile? Clients, or if you’re in a larger organisation , the business folks (i.e.’internal’ clients). Do you think any of them care about Java? Do any of them know what Java is? All they want is to get things done, quickly , and with as few mistakes as possible.

These business people would be happy to run their organisations on Spreadsheets. Do you remember the cartoon where Dilbert convinced the pointy haired boss that he could fly the plane using Excel? There’s more than a element of truth to this. I know of at least one US Fortune 100 company that (until recently) conducted most of it’s operations on little more than Microsoft Office and duct-tape. It worked, not very well, but it worked.

Until now , the next line would be ‘Excel (or any other type of Spreadsheet) is not secure / scalable / sharable / not web friendly’. That was until Google launched their Docs and Speadsheets. It’s an online version of Office with some spreadsheet functionality. Play with it a bit and you’ll see that there’s plenty missing. But this being Google , I’m willing to put good money on

  • (a) new features rolled out (think steamroller) and
  • (b) These Spreadsheets being massivly scalable / secure / sharable.

This being Google, there is also an API (developer page here). It’s got massive holes in it (e.g. you can’t yet use it to create a new spreadsheet). But when Microsoft bring out their version of online spreadsheets (and they will) not only will they clone the Google API (to get market share), they’ll need to go one further and introduce new features / remove the usage restrictions in order to compete.

So, secure, scalable, sharble online spreadsheets are here to stay. So lets take a look at Mr. (or Ms.) Pointy haired boss thinking about their new project:

  1. Hmm, I think we need to be able to gather which health plans our employees are enrolled in.
  2. OK, I’ll throw together a spreadsheet to show people what I want
  3. Before I’ll give to our friendly Java developer and let him ‘do’ a website from it.
    Soon I’ll just share this on Google.
  4. Great , Loads of people are now using it, I’ll just the (Ruby / PHP / Insert other language here) guy to add one or two extra features.
  5. Most Excellent. Why don’t we spin this off as a Web 2 company and sell it to EBay??

There you have it, Massively scalable , Highly secure websites (see Google Authentication API), without needing to know anything about EJB, JMX , JBoss, JDBC or any of the hard won knowledge that us Enterprise Java Developers have built up over the last 7-8 years. I’m exaggerating, but not much.

What do you think? Is Enterprise Java dead, or is Web 2 just another boost and a slightly different way of doing things for us Java people?

Other Java Posts from Technology in Plain English

Some other notes:

This article was originally published on the O’Reilly books OnJava Website.

Information Storage for Dummies (and how to make it secure)

Doing a lot of database work for a client right now so now it’s a good time to recap on where you can store your information. This might be basic stuff , but it’s essential basic stuff.

  • Spreadsheets, of which Microsoft Excel is the most popular. How the PC and Microsoft began their 25 year reign. Ironically their availability online (care of Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets) threatens to end the PC era and usher in the Web 2.0 one.Spreadsheets are never secure. If I can get a copy of them (and letting me read one means that I have a copy) then I can read everything. Everything. Most Excel passwords can be cracked within seconds.
  • Take a couple of spreadsheets, glue them together and put links between the sheets. Now you’ve more of less got an entry level database, such as Microsoft Access. It’s aimed at people who need more power than Excel, but are not developers.

    The trouble is that Access is not secure (see problem above) and that it doesn’t scale very well (for more than a couple of people using it at once). Both Access and Excel come with versions of Microsoft Office.

Access Splash Screen

  • So you have your information, and now you want to stick it on the web. MySql is the database of choice. Free, lightweight and with excellent tool support (e.g. phpMyAdmin), MySql is what powers this website. If you know what you’re doing (e.g. Google or Amazon) it will scale very very well.
  • For most people , the next step up is to a serious Enterprise database. Oracle, MS Sql-Server and it’s cousin Sybase are the main contenders in this area. DB2 from IBM is a distant fourth place while Sybase is strong in financial institutions. While MySql is catching up in features, most companies chose one of the main three because of their track record, a long list of people and vendors that support them, and because of ‘lock-in’. Once you choose a database it’s very hard to change.

So there you have it. Don’t let me see you trying to run a company on Excel or Access again. Or at least, don’t complain to me when it falls over!