Google Sheets vs Microsoft Excel

This post isn’t a treatise on which is better, nor is it necessarily my own opinion on which is better. Being honest I am leaning more towards Google Sheets right now because I’m using a Chromebook as my main device. I do like to immerse myself completely in the ecosystem of a device and see how much of my tasks I can complete within that ecosystem. When I first got an iPad for example, I tried to do everything using only the iPad. I wanted to see if it was possible, and also how awkward it would be to do it. I know any such change requires changes and workarounds and there’s a limit to how acceptable any individual will find those.

I was doing a piece of work recently for a company that required a number of spreadsheet templates to be created. They were using Excel for the work but had found the work to beyond their capabilities. I wanted to test out my Chromebook and also test out doing the project using Google Sheets and then passing them over Excel spreadsheets from Google Sheets to test for compatibility.

At first I did that and Google Sheets met all of my needs just fine, plus the converted templates worked fine. I found though as I went on that it just made more sense for everyone to use Google Sheets. This particular company likes to use the software they are used to and wouldn’t be into change but I suggested to them the possibility of using Google Sheets in this case and asked if they’d be willing to try it. I also showed them examples of how it would work. They were happy to give it a go and are now using Google Sheets for all such templates.

Here are some of the pros, cons, and issues that arose in my testing:

  • Google Sheets made sharing and updating the templates very easy. I was able to create the templates and email the links to everyone that needed them. (Eventually, I put all of the links on a Workflowy page I set up especially for this and shared with them). The great thing about the sharing method was that I could update or edit the sheets at any time and they would be automatically updated for the users without me having to send them updates, or replace existing spreadsheets with updated ones.
  • If users were having a problem on a sheet (e.g. Something wrong with a formula or some previously unknown condition in an If function) they could let me know and I could look at the current sheet, see where the problem was and correct it in an instant. The user generally didn’t need to restart their work because I could correct the work that was in progress
  • Some of their input was coming from foreign suppliers so, for example, they had a German company sending them transaction sheets. I could use the Google Translate function within Google sheets to translate the sheet and produce the required output
  • Some of their transactions came from multiple sources. I know Excel can do this but I found it very helpful to use the QUERY and IMPORT functions in Google Sheets to import data from other sheets. The great thing about referencing the sheets via HTML links rather than pointing to spreadsheets in a folder was that I didn’t have to worry about them being moved to another folder. The link to the sheet was always going to be the same.
  • I didn’t have to worry about versions of software because everyone was always going to be using the same version of Google Sheets whereas with Excel I couldn’t always guarantee that all users would be on the same version of the software
  • An issue arose, and I don’t know if this is an Excel or a Sheets issue. Sometimes my client would receive a CSV from a supplier. They needed to open the CSV, select all the data and then copy it to my Sheets template to perform the required manipulations on it. When they double-clicked to open the CSV it opened in Excel. That’s not a problem. The problem was that sometimes in Excel if the date column (for example) was too narrow, then the dates would be replaced by hashes (####). When my client selected all the data and copied it to Sheets then the hashes were copied rather than the date content. This, of course, messed up the output and I had to ask them to ensure that the date columns were wide enough before copying. I don’t like that when I’m trying to automate a system as much as possible.

Those are just some of the things I can think of in working between Sheets and Excel. Over all Sheets worked very well and the nature of the sheet being online and shareable made it very convenient to work with. The fact that I never needed to worry about whether a user had Excel or not was very convenient also. It’s a question that often arises when people ask me about Chromebooks, that of compatibility. I tested compatibility a lot in this particular job and aside from those few small things I can say that over all there was no issue and it worked very well.