A fresh-faced competitor for MS Excel

Mesh – the JavaScript IDE that feels like a spreadsheet

Jane Elizabeth
Mesh
© Shutterstock / Photology1971

Sometimes, regular spreadsheets just don’t cut it. Enter Mesh, a JavaScript IDE that’s built to feel like working in a spreadsheet for people constrained by Excel’s limitations.

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.”

Mesh is a spreadsheet UI wrapper around a text file editor. Actions on the grid are automatically translated to changes in the JavaScript code. Basically, it’s meant to help devs who use Excel, but find there are some limitations when trying to use it.

Mesh  

Mesh

Mesh is a JavaScript IDE that feels like a spreadsheet. Basically, Mesh’s goal is to improve the experience for devs using ‘regular’ programming languages. Pearson suggests that people should consider Mesh if they:

  • use JavaScript, but want rapid visual feedback and a convenient grid UI
  • 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.

SEE MORE: VertxUI: Java as a front-end language

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.

Advantages

Mesh was designed to have specific advantages for writing programs:

  • Mesh is designed to process, and generate, data of arbitrary length
  • Mesh is written in JavaScript
  • the absence of location-based referencing eliminates a class of errors that normally require humans to identify and fix
  • the Mesh file format is just JavaScript code in a text file, so:
    • 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.

Disadvantages

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.

 

If you’re interested, you can find Mesh’s GitHub page here and the preview page here. Head on over and see if Mesh is the right kind of JavaScript IDE spreadsheet for you!

Author
Jane Elizabeth
Jane Elizabeth is an assistant editor for JAXenter.com

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