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The weakness of Excel
Although Excel is the most widely-used general-purpose application, there are many requirements it does not meet.
General-purpose applications are applications that can be configured to provide solutions for many different requirements. They are valuable because they enable IT solutions where there is not enough time, money, justification, political will, expertise or clarity for a packaged solution or a custom application.
The best known general-purpose application is Excel. But lots of other applications, such as process management tools, reporting tools, web content management systems and collaboration products, could be used for multiple purposes.
To decide whether an application can really be considered general-purpose, we need to establish a list of criteria. Here is my list.
Excel falls short of these criteria, particularly in its support for true multi-user access. Other tools, like content management systems or reporting systems, meet most of the criteria, but are too specialised to be truly general-purpose. Some enterprise tools, such as Lotus Domino, meet more criteria. However, these are much larger, more complicated and more expensive solutions. Lotus Domino is a development and execution environment with collections of applications, not a single general-purpose application that can be simply configured for multiple purposes.
From my admittedly narrow knowledge of the IT marketplace, I do not know of current products that meet all the criteria for a truly general-purpose application. I think that this lack of products is more than chance, and is due to limitations in how we think about IT tools. Next week I will cover the fundamental concept of metadata and how it causes these limitations. The week after I will suggest a way to overcome these limitations and create a truly general-purpose application.Next: The curse of metadata
Minimal IT: research, training, consultancy and software to reduce IT costs.