Apple released a new “spreadsheet application” called Numbers as part of its iWork suite. A number of people have already started commenting that this is not exactly a spreadsheet application, but more an application that includes spreadsheet features, along with page layout and some other tricks.

Over the next few weeks, you’re probably going to hear some people claim that its a whole new concept. John Gruber, for example, mused: “This is a total ground-up re-imagining of what a ‘spreadsheet’ app is.… Numbers might be as much a new Hypercard as it is a new Excel.” Don’t you believe it though; we’ve seen this before.

In many ways, Numbers is really the new OpenDoc.

Originally conceived as Apple’s answer to Microsoft’s Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), OpenDoc was about embedding “components” into documents that would all be linked together. You might have a spreadsheet component, for example, that was linked to a graph component. When you edited the spreadsheet, the graph updated. There would be other components you could add, maybe to show images, for example. Back when OpenDoc was under heavy development, this was the canonical demo what OpenDoc would do for you. It would, in fact, look a lot like this screen from Numbers:

I seriously doubt that Numbers works exactly like OpenDoc did, and it certainly doesn’t have the full blown complement of OpenDoc features. For example, you probably can’t add your own components to it (yet). But it sure looks like the way OpenDoc was supposed to function, and I’d wager that a great deal of OpenDoc code ended up inside it.