Jan Borchers, co-founder of SOLYP Informatik GMBH and responsible for product development there, talks about the new reporting tool, JOOX

Wednesday, 14. December 2016

Jan Borchers is the mastermind behind the new SOLYP3 tool, JOOX, which revolutionises data output in PowerPoint. The lover of fast motorbikes, a keen cook and confessed home cinema fan, explains in an interview what benefits the implementation of JOOX offers, what software strategy is behind it and how it came about in the first place: “Because I hit the roof.”

Question: SOLYP3 is already able to control the Microsoft Office suite and allows, for example, data output in PowerPoint. That works easily, relatively quickly and in a CI-compliant manner. How does the new JOOX reporting tool improve on this starting situation?

Jan Borchers: Quite simply: it works faster, a lot faster! Up until now a user had to invest a good three quarters of an hour if he wanted to prepare a 200-page PowerPoint presentation. One of our customers has to create 80 such volumes every quarter. It is easy to work out how long he sits there doing that. And how often he is able to go fetch a coffee, because as long as PowerPoint is running, he can’t use his computer for anything else. That is why we increased the output speed with JOOX tremendously. Our customers can now drive a Ferrari! You can now generate 200 pages of PowerPoint in six to seven seconds. We have done tests where we created 10,000 PowerPoint slides with 4,000 embedded Excel tables - in just 25 seconds. That doesn’t happen in practice of course, but it shows the huge HP under the JOOX bonnet.

How did this performance explosion come about?

We moved the whole data conversion function from the client to the server. The SOLYP3 client used to be remote controlled, so to speak, by accessing PowerPoint and running a Visual Basic script. Now JOOX works extremely efficiently on the company server, requires little memory and only leaves a small footprint behind. The user gets his end product, the PowerPoint file, after just a few seconds. And that leads to a second key benefit: the user’s computer is no longer blocked by the remote control function. Like I said, with many customers that took half or three quarters of an hour. Now with JOOX, not only is the waiting time omitted but also the client’s downtime.

For many customers and interested parties, that may well pose the question as to why you took so long with the acceleration ...

Honestly, that was not down to us, it was down to Microsoft. Up until Office 2003, the MS Office suite was a proprietary system, to which we had no access. We were left with no other choice than to control every single client remotely - and sometimes different Office versions were running on these, meaning that the reports sometimes looked completely different. Where there was shading here, it was missing there etc. And when Microsoft brought out a new version of Office, we had to programme it again afterwards. That made me hit the roof sometimes!

What happened then?

Microsoft made a move and opened its system from Office 2007 onwards. The result is now pptx files that obey ISO 29500 and ECMA-376, i.e. it is laid down openly here how pptx files are composed, e.g. out of images, graphics and videos, and how these are saved. Microsoft itself depicts these standards in its .NET programming platform, but uses its own MS names instead of the standardised ones. And we are talking about 15,000 pages of standard specifications here for the ISO standard alone. You can imagine what work goes into translating the MS namespace of several thousand objects alone into JAVA so that we can generate PowerPoint from our applications without a single restriction. Everyone capitulated until now faced with that - apart from JOOX! Because all the functions that the .NET platform offers can also be found in JOOX. That makes JOOX the only JAVA port for the .NET framework. At the same time JOOX acts as a JAVA API that obeys the ISO and ECMA standards.

What does that mean in practice?

Everything that Microsoft does with the MS Office suite, we can now do too in JAVA. Because JOOX uses the exact same wording as .NET. On the scale of what we are talking about here, such a performance should not be underestimated ...

Customers often associate ISO standardisation with a certain lifespan of the application. Does that also apply to JOOX? Put provocatively: JOOX may be the future - but for how long?

I can answer that in the same way: JOOX will still be around if the MS Office suite disappears from the market. JOOX is neutrally defined according to the above-mentioned standards, which makes it an extremely sustainable software investment that can also control other standardised output formats. For the immediate future, however, one thing is much more important: JOOX is not subject to any change of version on the client. The reports always look the same and on each client, with whichever MS Office version he or she works. In this respect JOOX has forwards and backwards compatibility, i.e. whatever was created with the latest MS Office kit can also still be easily represented with an old one, even if perhaps not with all the new finesses. That represents quite a considerable advantage for our users: they can leave their current system environment as it is for now.

To finish with, a question that is as pressing today as it ever was: that of security. Does JOOX also provide improvements in this respect?

No doubt about it, yes. Until now our client was sent a VBS file, which generated its report on its own computer. That means that a Visual Basic Script was run on its computer - a small program, which can act as a gateway for viruses and other malware at any time. That is why modern browsers like Google Chrome now forbid the download of scripts and close these gateways. By sending a PowerPoint file to our user, this security risk is omitted, as the PowerPoint produced contains no active components and is purely a presentation format.

We have spoken a lot about the higher speed, the improved security standards and the version independence of JOOX: Benefits that are certainly to be comprehended rationally. But how does JOOX feel? How will it change the user experience of SOLYP3?

I am sure that JOOX will make a lot of people happy! You are right: speed is a technical component. It must not be an end in itself. The tremendous speed of JOOX makes us more free and agile in the application, also more mobile and location-independent. As a person responsible for strategy, I can, for example, look at the report for a business unit - and in fact the whole thing, simply because it is on my computer in a few seconds. I no longer have to limit myself to a couple of charts using the preview function. I can simply take a quick look at the whole document. And because JOOX sends the finished PowerPoint files, I can also check my report on a tablet. All that is needed is a reader! That works on the train, at the airport or during a coffee break. Thanks to JOOX, meetings and strategy discussions are possible in many places all of a sudden ... perhaps in places that promote strategic ideas more than your own office. I am convinced that JOOX will change more than we assume so far.