Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hey, Excel: Resolver One understands .NET. Are you learning?

I've posted extensively about Excel and Excel Services, and without a doubt my biggest disappointment with Excel 2007 was the lack of .NET integration. Excel forces a developer to jump back into the 20th century to do COM development. I lamented this; I wish that the Excel team had adopted .NET.

Well, earlier this week I found a spreadsheet that goes far beyond my expectations for .NET integration: Resolver One. (BTW, when Harry Pierson and Larry O'Brien both mention a product within a couple of days of each other, check it out).

Resolver One is a powerful spreadsheet tool based on Python. It translates your spreadsheet logic into Python, and it even lets you write your spreadsheet logic in Python.

But what really impressed me was the .NET integration. They've got a very interesting take on how to integrate -- much more interesting than Microsoft's VSTO.

Rather than simply let you put .NET code behind your spreadsheet, ResolverOne actually allows you to put .NET objects into your spreadsheet cells. That's right -- simply add a reference to your DLL, then you can enter =MyClass() into a cell. It will instantiate your class, and store it "in the cell." If your constructor takes arguments, no problem: Enter something like =MyClass(B1, B2) to pass the contents of cells B1 and B2 to your constructor.

How can you take advantage of this object? Well, now other cells can use that object -- pulling properties out for example. So if your object is in cell C1 and you want to pull out one of its properties into cell D1, you can enter =C1.MyProperty.

Other great things about this product: it's $99 for a commercial license. Free for a non commercial license.

This .NET integration made it a snap for me to adapt to commanding an app on the grid. I had my standard "MonteCarloPi" grid application running after about 5 minutes of coding (I'll post that source soon). And when I say "5 minutes," I mean 5 minutes. It was ridiculously easy, and that's a very good thing. With 5 minutes of coding, I had my simple, single-threaded .NET object running in parallel on all of the multicore machines in my office, and the results were being displayed in the spreadsheet.

In a way, Resolver One's use of .NET reminded me a lot of our own use of .NET. Whereas previous spreadsheets (and grid computing software) required you to take an enormous step backwards in programming technology in order to write programs, Resolver One (and Digipede) actually leverage the programming models of .NET to make the developer more at home and more productive.

All in all, it's a very impressive product. Microsoft, are you watching?

Update 2008-01-31 12:02 Harry Pierson just listed Resolver One as one of the highlights of, and points out that the talks should be online soon.

Update 2008-01-31 12:32 Half an hour later, Larry O'Brien calls Resolver One the most impressive application from

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