I know it's been out for a while now, so I'm breaking one of the cardinal rules of blogging, but I was asked to do this for work so I thought I'd post it here as well.
Google Spreadsheet is Google’s entry into the online spreadsheet market. The user interface is what one would expect coming from Excel, although Google has taken the Office 2007 (albeit with much less options) approach and categorizes toolbar buttons into one of three tabs – Format, Sort, and Formulas. Typing data into cells is fast, but sometimes the display doesn’t keep up with what is being typed. For example, there is often a small delay in right-justifying a number. It may take some time before users used to Excel’s instantaneous updating become confident in the user interface’s ability to keep up.
GS contains roughly 240 functions, all of which adopt Excel’s naming and argument scheme. Unfortunately, none of the functions actually name arguments, instead they simply display “(args)”. This requires users to remember formula arguments, keep an Excel reference handy, or keep Excel open, options which are all equally undesirable. Also missing from Google Spreadsheets (but available on competitor iRows) is the ability to create charts.
Despite all the drawbacks, the application does have some redeeming qualities. After you initially save a file, it is constantly saved. Without any sort of version control, though, this could do more harm than good. Making changes to a spreadsheet automatically saves it and navigating away from the spreadsheet causes undo history to be lost. An unalert user may find himself causing irreparable damage to a file all too often.
Furthermore, GS has the ability to import XLS and CSV. It can also export to HTML as well as those two formats. Importing files may be a bit tricky because of GS’s limited formatting options (e.g., borders aren’t supported) and functions.
It is worth noting that GS has collaborative editing built-in, meaning that multiple users can edit a spreadsheet at the same time. According to the GS help site, there is currently no limit to the number of users that you can share a spreadsheet with, although no distinction is made between people invited to edit and people invited to only view.
Google’s target market is hard to pinpoint. Casual computer users have very little, if any, need for a spreadsheet application and heavy-hitting users are more likely to need more power than GS has to offer. Road warriors have no need for GS as well. If they have a need for Excel at all times, then they probably have it installed on their notebooks. If they don’t have a notebook handy, navigating the application on a mobile device would be painful even if it were possible (GS currently only supports Internet Explorer 6 and Firefox) and there are applications available for all four major PDA/smartphone operating systems that are specifically tuned for small screens that would do a quicker and better job than GS would (in addition to saving on costly mobile data rates).
In addition, there doesn’t seem to be a way for Google to integrate contextual advertising into an application that mostly deals with numbers (as opposed to GMail and GCal, which rely on textual user data to generate ads).
It is pretty evident that Google is just testing the waters with Google Spreadsheets and that it is not a serious entry into the online spreadsheet market. The application does not host the typical Beta designation present in Google’s mass-market products such as GMail and Google Calendar. Instead, the Google Spreadsheets logo features a bubbling flask indicative of a Google Labs project. No online spreadsheet application is able to compete with Excel, but users looking for an online spreadsheet application to complement Excel should look to a more polished solution.
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