Chemistry Add-in for Word tackles long term challenges for compound document creation and manipulation
1/31/2011 6:55 PM
I may be dating myself, but the announcement today of the Outercurve Foundation’s acceptance of the Chemistry Add-in for Word project is nostalgic. My first conversation last summer with Dr. Peter Murray-Rust of the University of Cambridge was more than a walk down memory lane, it was a reminder of just how daunting a task it was that Drs. Murray-Rust and Joe Townsend had taken on.
One of my first marketing jobs in high tech was in the area of Research Computing. I was responsible for managing software vendors in the molecular modeling and computational chemistry sector. In this role, I was working with software vendors who were creating “Compound Document Editors”. The goal was to enable scientists to embed chemical structures in documents, retaining much of the complex data behind the molecular structure. At the time, pharmaceutical companies were shipping new drug applications in trailers. This was before WYSIWYG editors, before Word, when some of the simplest documentation tasks required programming skills. Lab notebooks were all hardcopy.
Now, 26 years later, an open source project, the Chemistry Add-In for Word, has been released that tackles what clearly was an enormous challenge. Had an open source approach been taken decades ago, perhaps the problem would have been solved sooner. That said, the underlying tools simply were not mature enough to enable this type of work.
So, why is the Outercurve Foundation taking on this project? First, it fits well within the theme of our Research Accelerators Gallery. The RA Gallery was conceived to encourage collaboration on open source software projects designed to empower research scientists and academics by providing software tools to support innovation, research and experimentation. We’re gaining traction with this third project, a complement to Conference XP (a platform for scientific collaboration and distance learning) and Project Trident (tools to manage scientific workflows.)
Secondly, by shifting the project to the Foundation, we are encouraging scientists around the globe to engage, contribute, enhance, and support the original authors on this project. They have done some heavy lifting, but I am sure will welcome new collaborators.
All good things come to those that wait!