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Ecco like features for future SheetPlanner

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Posted by SheetPlanner
Feb 13, 2018 at 02:57 AM

 

All,
While we are working hard to get SheetPlanner 1.0 out the door, I am curious to get input on features that people would like to see in a future version.

Specifically, what are the unique features Ecco users most liked.

One feature I am thinking about for a future SheetPlanner release is the ability to view columns and column choices as folders.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgJLIYhSwmI&list=PL52B7716DE368314C&index=5

Any thoughts on this or on Ecco features you loved and would like to see us consider?

Thanks,
Peter

 


Posted by rogbar
Feb 13, 2018 at 06:52 AM

 

Hi Peter,

I was deep into Ecco from version 1 to the end, and for years after, and I have to concede that the concept of Folders - as familiar as I was with them - is what confused most people for the longest time. The idea that a Column was a Folder, but a Folder could be - but didn’t have to be - a Column, just drove a lot of people nuts. Seeing your screenshots, it’s not altogether clear to me that you need Folders.

But the program was brilliantly and remarkably adaptable.

Ten years after it was discontinued, an article appeared in The Guardian by Andrew Brown, entitled “Bad ideas spread like wildfire, so why didn’t a good one catch on?” Here is that article:

“There is a sadness when ideas are not rewarded. The inventor of the modern spreadsheet, Dan Bricklin, has to make money from lecturing nowadays, because he never patented his idea of laying out information on a grid, and his spreadsheet, Visicalc, was overtaken by later programs which ran on faster PCs, such as Lotus 123. Lotus 123, which ran on MS-Dos, was replaced by Microsoft Excel which ran on Microsoft Windows. But its makers, like Mitch Kapor, walked away with a huge pile of money, much of which he has devoted to good causes.

It is sadder still when good ideas are just forgotten. The spreadsheet transformed the world, I think, in ways we don’t understand, and almost always for the worse. But you can lay out more information on a flexible grid than just numbers or words, and about 15 years ago a couple of ex-Apple Mac people decided to do just that. Bob Perez was a Harvard-trained lawyer who had worked as a programmer, and then as a salesman (the job title was “evangelist”) for Apple in the 1980s; Pete Polash was a programmer who had sold an early Mac presentation graphics program to Aldus.

Between them, they came up with the idea of Ecco Pro, an organiser that would work like an outliner: you could put stuff in, then move the items around in a hierarchy. What sort of stuff? Anything you wanted. This was 1993, so there was a limited choice, but the program would take pictures, web pages and text: it came with a wonderful little tool, the “shooter”, which let you clip things and send them to Ecco, or to other programs.

Ecco was not a tremendous outliner. The real originality lay in the area next to the outlined text, where there was normally a kind of spreadsheet grid. The rows were paragraphs of text - anything else in your outline - and the columns were, well anything you wanted them to be.

What we would now call “tags” were known in Ecco as “checkmark folders” - you just invented any category you wanted, and then decided how to apply it to the entries. Just as with any tagging system, you could apply lots of tags, and sort and filter the results.

I know you can do this with all sorts of other systems: it’s just that the spreadsheet grid that Ecco used was more useful and intuitive than anything else I have ever found. The thing about tags, or thought categories generally, is that they come in contexts, and this is what a grid most effectively represents. If I am making a radio programme, for example, I will end up with 20 or 30 sound clips. Each of them will have some physical characteristics - who is talking, whether their voice is high or low, attractive or merely informative, what kind of accent they have. But they will also have their logical - or at least non-physical - characteristics: what is being talked about, what is being said. Only the spreadsheet layout lets me place the related tags on different axes, and then push everything around until it fits more or less right.

So what happened to the paragon of a program? The market killed it. First it was sold to a much larger company, Netmanage; presumably doing this made the original programmers a lot of money. Then Netmanage panicked when Microsoft Outlook came along as a “free” part of the Office suite, and killed development on the program. That was 10 years ago, and I still haven’t found anything half as good for the organisation and storage of complex material. You can still get it, legitimately, and for free, for download (see compusol.org/ecco), and it still mostly works even under the most modern versions of Windows. But it has never been released to open source - the company wanted a rumoured $1m for the code - and the profound and brilliant insight that spreadsheet grids combined with outlining offers the best way to understand complex information has never been followed up.

This story doesn’t really have any particular villains, except perhaps the people at Netmanage who drove the product into the ground. But it is puzzling that in an age when bad ideas spread round the world like wildfire, such a very good, unpatented idea should never have been picked up.”

 


Posted by Paul Korm
Feb 13, 2018 at 11:08 AM

 

Folders are tags, or tags are folders.  (As also implied in the Guardian column @rogbar quoted).  Not a bad idea.  Tinderbox produces the same kind of view in its attribute browser.  It’s a popular feature.  I see no reason why the feature would drive anyone nuts.  Go fo it.

SheetPlanner wrote:
>One feature I am thinking about for a future SheetPlanner release is the
>ability to view columns and column choices as folders.

 


Posted by MadaboutDana
Feb 13, 2018 at 01:46 PM

 

I think folders would be a great option, but not a vital option.

You would undoubtedly make many ageing Ecco Pro users happy, however!

Personally, I’m in favour of simplicity wherever possible. But simplicity can also involve having the ability to hide stuff away - and for this, folders can indeed be useful.

 


Posted by SheetPlanner
Feb 13, 2018 at 03:26 PM

 

Rogbar,
Thanks for your response.

I really like the folders feature myself but it might take away from the simplicity for many users.

I may offer this as an in app upgrade down the road.

Peter

rogbar wrote:
Hi Peter,
> >I was deep into Ecco from version 1 to the end, and for years after, and
>I have to concede that the concept of Folders - as familiar as I was
>with them - is what confused most people for the longest time. The idea
>that a Column was a Folder, but a Folder could be - but didn’t have to
>be - a Column, just drove a lot of people nuts. Seeing your screenshots,
>it’s not altogether clear to me that you need Folders.
> >But the program was brilliantly and remarkably adaptable.
> >Ten years after it was discontinued, an article appeared in The Guardian
>by Andrew Brown, entitled “Bad ideas spread like wildfire, so why didn’t
>a good one catch on?” Here is that article:
> >“There is a sadness when ideas are not rewarded. The inventor of the
>modern spreadsheet, Dan Bricklin, has to make money from lecturing
>nowadays, because he never patented his idea of laying out information
>on a grid, and his spreadsheet, Visicalc, was overtaken by later
>programs which ran on faster PCs, such as Lotus 123. Lotus 123, which
>ran on MS-Dos, was replaced by Microsoft Excel which ran on Microsoft
>Windows. But its makers, like Mitch Kapor, walked away with a huge pile
>of money, much of which he has devoted to good causes.
> >It is sadder still when good ideas are just forgotten. The spreadsheet
>transformed the world, I think, in ways we don’t understand, and almost
>always for the worse. But you can lay out more information on a flexible
>grid than just numbers or words, and about 15 years ago a couple of
>ex-Apple Mac people decided to do just that. Bob Perez was a
>Harvard-trained lawyer who had worked as a programmer, and then as a
>salesman (the job title was “evangelist”) for Apple in the 1980s; Pete
>Polash was a programmer who had sold an early Mac presentation graphics
>program to Aldus.
> >Between them, they came up with the idea of Ecco Pro, an organiser that
>would work like an outliner: you could put stuff in, then move the items
>around in a hierarchy. What sort of stuff? Anything you wanted. This was
>1993, so there was a limited choice, but the program would take
>pictures, web pages and text: it came with a wonderful little tool, the
>“shooter”, which let you clip things and send them to Ecco, or to other
>programs.
> >Ecco was not a tremendous outliner. The real originality lay in the area
>next to the outlined text, where there was normally a kind of
>spreadsheet grid. The rows were paragraphs of text - anything else in
>your outline - and the columns were, well anything you wanted them to
>be.
> >What we would now call “tags” were known in Ecco as “checkmark folders”
>- you just invented any category you wanted, and then decided how to
>apply it to the entries. Just as with any tagging system, you could
>apply lots of tags, and sort and filter the results.
> >I know you can do this with all sorts of other systems: it’s just that
>the spreadsheet grid that Ecco used was more useful and intuitive than
>anything else I have ever found. The thing about tags, or thought
>categories generally, is that they come in contexts, and this is what a
>grid most effectively represents. If I am making a radio programme, for
>example, I will end up with 20 or 30 sound clips. Each of them will have
>some physical characteristics - who is talking, whether their voice is
>high or low, attractive or merely informative, what kind of accent they
>have. But they will also have their logical - or at least non-physical -
>characteristics: what is being talked about, what is being said. Only
>the spreadsheet layout lets me place the related tags on different axes,
>and then push everything around until it fits more or less right.
> >So what happened to the paragon of a program? The market killed it.
>First it was sold to a much larger company, Netmanage; presumably doing
>this made the original programmers a lot of money. Then Netmanage
>panicked when Microsoft Outlook came along as a “free” part of the
>Office suite, and killed development on the program. That was 10 years
>ago, and I still haven’t found anything half as good for the
>organisation and storage of complex material. You can still get it,
>legitimately, and for free, for download (see compusol.org/ecco), and it
>still mostly works even under the most modern versions of Windows. But
>it has never been released to open source - the company wanted a
>rumoured $1m for the code - and the profound and brilliant insight that
>spreadsheet grids combined with outlining offers the best way to
>understand complex information has never been followed up.
> >This story doesn’t really have any particular villains, except perhaps
>the people at Netmanage who drove the product into the ground. But it is
>puzzling that in an age when bad ideas spread round the world like
>wildfire, such a very good, unpatented idea should never have been
>picked up.”
> >

 


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