Excel online or Google Sheets: choosing online solution for your tables

If you're hesitating between the spreadsheet solutions available on the market, it means you are among the lucky ones who get to choose it themselves. It is usually the work environment or the preferences of our co-workers that define our software ecosystem. If most people in your team prefer Google Office suite, most likely you will end up in Google Drive. If people around are advocates of the Microsoft Office products, you'll probably choose it as well.

If you do get to determine, take a closer look at the main players in this field. As a regular user of both, Excel online and Google Sheets, I will share my view of these services, hoping it will help you see what tool suits your purposes better. I'll do my best to stay impartial and list all the pros you crave and the cons that you may not want to put up with.

Please note that I will compare the online counterparts. Not just because this would be the only fair juxtaposition, but also because they give you access to your tables anywhere and streamline collaboration. Work online is a commodity that is slowly turning into a necessity. I put aside the questions of data security in the cloud because both solutions are there, and focus on the differences in the features they provide.

For the accuracy of the experiment, I created a new account in each service to see what you get before you start any subscriptions, so we'll look at plain free versions of the spreadsheet solutions. If you don't have the time to try both of them, below you'll find the list of the main distinctions.

Let's start with the essentials

When working with our tables, there is basic functionality we are used to. Both programs seem to provide the same set of necessary features, but each has its own advantages.

Convenient features in Excel online

  • When you insert or delete cells, you can choose to shift the existing data. This allows you to quickly add a couple of missing records just at the right place in the table.
  • There is also quite a friendly way of inserting hyperlinks: besides an ordinary URL, you can add an email or refer to a place in the document, quite a handy feature.
  • The process of cutting and pasting is vivid.

The Home tab in Excel online is practically unchanged:
Practically all basic features we know are available in Excel online

Compelling features in Google Sheets

  • Google Sheets, in their turn, give you several more paste special options: you can transpose data, exclude borders when you copy formatting, and paste data validation and conditional formatting, more about these advanced operations further in the post.
  • When you work with tables that have over about thirty rows and twenty columns, you'll appreciate the possibility to freeze panes.
  • There is one more surprising feature that is missing in Excel online: the possibility to replace records. Excel allows you to perform a basic search online, but even a browser does that. As of today, you won't find a way to replace data using its standard means. Google Sheets, on the other hand, has all the necessary tools: case-sensitive search, work with regular expressions, and replacement options are all there.

Google Sheets is a lot like Excel 2003: there are icons for the main functions and drop-down menus:
Google Sheets is a lot like Excel 2003: main functions have icons

Some words about simple formatting

There are a couple of minor differences with the ways you can edit text and color. Neither support patterns and some other more advanced options, but basic formatting is available. The following are not necessarily the most important features, but sometimes even they play a crucial role in the way you process your data:

Excel online

The most appreciated feature you get is the possibility to convert your range to a table. This will give it a finished look: the headers will stand out and every other row will be neatly colored. One more nice little thing is a double underline.
Excel lets you format your data as a table

Google Sheets

Here you get much-wanted support for the cell border styles and colors, a few text wrapping options, and a format painter. If you like crossing things out, use the strikethrough formatting here. One more pleasant possibility is using color in the sheet names to distinguish them.
Add color the sheet name and strikethrough text format

Significant features of online Excel & Google Sheets

Both Google Sheets and Excel online are in a tough position. People expect to get their favorite functionality from the desktop version of Excel, and we seem to concentrate on what the online services do not have. Let's try to look at them from a different perspective and see what they can do for you now.

The strengths and weaknesses of Excel online

When you open an Excel file in the online version, it is shown very well, and practically all features are supported now. If you initially create the file online, here are the good sides to it:

  • Microsoft team brought the ease of working with functions to the cloud. Besides a friendly window listing all functions with a short description, you get hints while entering the formula, so you don't have to switch back and forth between tabs like you do in Google Sheets.
  • Get a list of functions and hints

  • You can format your data as a table: this comes with nicer-looking native formatting and some ease with processing the records, for example, the only way to filter the data.
  • All comments are conveniently placed into a sidebar, which is a great way to handle them.
  • There are more chart types that you can employ.
  • You can extend the functionality with the help of add-ins from the office store. Once you start them, you can always access them from a minimized sidebar. On the other hand, once you do, they will always load with your spreadsheet and you won't be able to close them or cancel their work. It's easier to navigate your extensions, but there's no way to turn them off.

Convert your data to a table for a better layout

You will also notice some undesirable points.

  • There is one annoying point about editing data in Excel online: the file is regularly re-loaded. If you leave it open for some time and start working with it again, chances are you'll have to wait. Also, it opens in the View mode by default and you need to click Edit to start your work. It may be convenient if you view spreadsheets online more than you edit them, but not the other way round.
  • As of today, you won't find some important ways to work with your table: replacing data, advanced sorting options, conditional formatting, and data validation.
  • Filter is available only if you add a table
  • The collaboration process is a bit awkward yet. Unless you get a general link to the document, you need to create a shared folder first. Yes, you can see who else is working on the table, but that's where the convenience ends. If someone decides to edit the spreadsheet in Excel desktop application, your file is going to get locked until they finish their work.
  • If you tend to compare what you get online to what you get on your desktop, see this list of things that work differently. I would suggest acquainting yourself with this long list to know that, for example, NOW and TODAY functions return the time and date of the server, and not your computer.

The strong and weak points of Google Sheets

Google Sheets has a lot more to offer off-the-shelf. Online is their realm, and they've been here for a while. They certainly didn't waste time as they brought all the basic functionality you need to work with tables:

  • One of the biggest winning features is conditional formatting, of course. It opens doors to plenty of use cases and makes our online sheets a lot more functional.
  • Google Sheets offers a lot of features missing in Excel online

  • Protect any range or entire sheets from being edited. You can grant editing rights to yourself, your domain, or certain people.
  • Collaboration is organized very well. Though version control and teamwork are available in both solutions, here you'll find advanced sharing and notification settings. When working on the same spreadsheet simultaneously, you can discuss any questions live in a chat window right inside the spreadsheet. If your colleagues bring changes to the file while you are away, they can quickly email collaborators and you can also set up notifications about the updates.
  • Analyze your data by creating a pivot table report.
  • Google Sheets users are also fortunate to have data validation.
  • There are things to improve about named ranges, but they are supported. Name them all and use them in your calculations. You can afford it in Google Sheets.
  • Though charts were always a strong point in Excel, here you get more ways you can customize your charts, and the interface is quite simple. Besides, you can add sparklines, a feature I couldn't find in Excel online.
  • Online Excel has the basics, Google Sheets has advanced options

  • The possibility to filter data and create filtered views shouldn't come last. You can filter by practically any condition or your custom one.
  • Advanced sorting by any number of columns is there to organize your data and present them any way you need.
  • Merging areas covers three ways: horizontal, vertical, or you can merge any selected range.
  • Speaking of merging, now you can also split text to columns by any delimiter.
  • The new Explore option does a good job of presenting you with a summary for the selected records.
  • You can distinguish between comments and notes.
  • Google Sheets add-on store is pretty straightforward, and the products there counterbalance some of the missing features. See what our Power Tools alone can do. As we develop extensions for both platforms, we really appreciate that you have the possibility to cancel changes made by add-ons.
  • Apps Scripts make Google Sheets a lot more flexible, and with a community of users helping you master them, you're on your way to automating many daily tasks.
  • It is very easy to organize your spreadsheets among folders on your drive; you will also admire the ease of copying sheets to other files.
  • Move your spreadsheets to any folder

  • One more thing. It handles work from different devices better. I realize it's quite an unlikely use case, but if you open your sheet in your browser, go to a meeting and try to make changes to it on your mobile or tablet, Google Sheets will let you do it. Excel online simply locks the file and makes you duplicate the spreadsheet

What about things that are not so great?

Work with functions: there are no hints, and unless you know them all by heart, you have to switch between your table and a tab with the list of functions.

Little, but sometimes important features. Even though they are adding new functionality, they are not always enough to work with numeric data professionally. The support forum is full of messages about missing solutions that desktop Excel offers. Chances are, they are not available in Excel online either.

Google:Excel score

If you have to professionally deal with a lot of numeric data on a daily basis, no online solutions can beat on-premises Excel at the moment. As your table grows large, it becomes sluggish and hard to deal with online, processing it is clumsy, and you have to rely on the servers.

Generally speaking, you need to ask yourself the main question: how much of your work with numbers do you want to bring online? If you are taking a step towards the cloud, you can see that the essence of online Excel and Google Sheets is different.

Right now Excel online is simply a great auxiliary tool for your desktop Excel. If you get a subscription for Office 365, it is backed up by the powerful version. Without it, it only lets you "view and lightly edit" your tables on the go.

Google Sheets is an independent and mainly online solution. It is the principal spreadsheet product that you get in their office suite. If the functionality it offers is enough for your regular work with the tables, it is a good option. It primarily gives you streamlined collaboration tools, access to your sheets from any device, all basic operations, and some more profound work with the data that you are used to in Excel.

Did I overlook any important features? What service did you choose? Please share your experience in the comments section.

See also

5 Responses to "Excel online or Google Sheets: choosing online solution for your tables"

  1. rakesh says:

    when two words combined in one cell in Proper case how can it split in cells

  2. rakesh says:

    Hi Experts,

    If two different names combined in one cell(in proper case)how can it split into cells.
    Example
    ShelleyLandis

  3. Jikku says:

    Dep Account Amount
    0010 300160 0
    0010 354009 -74378.96
    0010 361001 0
    0010 361012 -41045.24
    0010 361013 -17272.9
    0010 361015 -89.84
    0010 664901 -1422
    0010 690001 -86620.12
    0011 690001 5666
    0012 690001 5411

    how I can get sum for Department 0010 with account start with 3?

    • Doug says:

      Jikku:
      Where your sample data is organized like this:
      Dep in F31:F40, Account is in G31:G40 and Amount is in H30:H40 the formula is:
      =SUMIFS(H31:H40,G31:G40,"=3*",F31:F40,"0010")

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