Google spreadsheets is not an Excel killer

June 8th, 2006

It seems that lots of people are all aflutter over Google Spreadsheets.

I personally doubt that it’s going to have any impact whatsoever on Excel and Office more generally.

Firstly, most people who use Excel use it fairly peripherally. Word is by far the most used of the programs in the Office suite. Most uses of Excel are going to be pretty peripheral. When these people use Excel they mainly use the ‘simple’ functions: sum, average, and so on. Will they use the Google Spreadsheets? Maybe, but I’d guess that as a lot of this is for personal financial information (budgets and the like) they may well be a bit reluctant to put it out on the web.

So who uses Excel the most? To guess (without any data) I’d say that the biggest users would be people who work with company financial data, followed by scientists and social scientists who work with quantitative data. Firstly, a lot of this information is confidential, either commerically or otherwise. They simply won’t be allowed to use something like Google Spreadsheets. Some might ignore that restriction, but most won’t. But more importantly, they use a lot of the higher end functions. Things like pivot tables, lookup functions, the statistical programs and so on (update: well, the lookup functions at least are included). While we’re still waiting to see the full feature set for the Google version, I’ll be very surprised if everything I need for spreadsheets is included.

A couple of other important question marks include spreadsheet linking. Can you link a cell in one file to another cell in a seperate file? This is a very common use for advanced Excel users, and without it Google Spreadsheets will be useless.

One final reason why most advanced users will stay away is other programs. Most data analysis programs (STATA, SAS, etc.) can read excel files. But they won’t read these Google files. While you can download them as .xls to your local drive, while add another step when you already have Excel installed?

So I don’t think anyone at Redmond is very worried today.

Now a Google Wordprocessor could be a whole other story, as there’s a lot more casual use of that program.