Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Generating spreadsheets online

One of the advantages we hope the data commons will bring to data sharers is that we'll handle all the tedious format conversion issues that often raise the cost of collaboration.

Smaller organizations often prefer to work with spreadsheets rather than databases, so we are working to support export and import to spreadsheet formats, such as that of Excel.

The free and open source spreadsheet program gnumeric comes with a command-line utility ssconvert ("SpreadSheet convert") which is almost ideal for automating such conversions. For example, it can take the primitive CSV (comma separated value) format which is easy to generate from any source, and convert it to all the various Excel formats (and lots of other formats too).

A patch from a data commoner (myself) to support merging multiple workbooks was recently accepted by the developers of gnumeric. This is typical of how the free and open source software community works: someone benefiting from a public good extends it to meet a need they have, then contributes the extension for the benefit of all. This model is at the heart of what the data commons project wants to bring to the cooperative economy.

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