First things first. Let’s get this out of the way: Mesh is not a replacement for Microsoft Excel. It just isn’t. Chris Pearson, the programmer behind Mesh, is pretty up front about this.
“Mesh is not intended to replace existing spreadsheet programs in all domains,” Pearson said. “Mesh was started because I couldn’t find a way in Excel to output the results of a formula across an arbitrary number of cells.”
- use spreadsheets, but feel constrained by Excel’s limitations.
However, fair warning, Mesh is currently in active development. Things are being changed a lot, and it is still in a very rough beta stage.
So, it’s not Excel
Mesh is a really interesting entrant to the field of spreadsheets, but we’re not saying you should delete your copy of Open Office or MS Office just yet. Existing spreadsheet programs offer location-based referencing and formatting, which is very flexible. This makes them perfect as a calculation scratch-pad, or for viewing or editing data in formats like CSVs.
However, ‘traditional’ programming languages might be a better tool for things like repeated processes with minimal human intervention. In particular, Pearson points out that most spreadsheets are rather poor at processing and generating data of arbitrary length. People use spreadsheets in these cases because they are familiar and readily accessible.
Mesh was designed to have specific advantages for writing programs:
- Mesh is designed to process, and generate, data of arbitrary length
- the absence of location-based referencing eliminates a class of errors that normally require humans to identify and fix
- diffing is easy (function is built into Windows: FC in CMD, Compare-Object in PowerShell)
- it integrates with standard version control systems like Git
- you don’t need Mesh to run a Mesh file, so you can integrate Mesh files into other systems.
Mesh is a newcomer and under active development. So, that means there are going to be bugs.
- Unlike Excel, the whole file gets recalculated every time (no caching of values that won’t change)
- Spreadsheet display won’t work well with names whose values change over the course of a file (you may get best results if you adopt an ‘immutability’ convention)
- Mesh misses out on Excel’s built-in functions
- Can’t rename a name without it breaking other references in the file
So, obviously, there are kinks in the system that still need to be worked out. But, it seems like an exciting new development in the world of spreadsheets.