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The desktop version of Excel has long been the king of the hill when it comes to spreadsheet apps, but Google is making a challenge for the title with Sheets, the spreadsheet tool included in Google Apps. Does it have a viable claim to the throne? Or is it a hollow imitation of Excel? Both have their advantages; here’s why you might want to use one or the other.

Why You Might Want to Use Google Sheets

Google was very ambitious in trying to release a spreadsheet program that would (eventually) go toe-to-toe with Excel. And while it hasn’t quite gotten to that level, Sheets has come a long way in the few years that it’s been around. And it has managed to develop a few features that set it apart from Excel.

Price

You just can’t beat Google Sheets on price. The entire suite of Google Apps is free. And if you want a business-level subscription, you pay $5 per user per month. That’s the same price as Office 365, Microsoft’s new business model An Introduction to Office 365 -- Should You Buy Into the New Office Business Model? An Introduction to Office 365 -- Should You Buy Into the New Office Business Model? Office 365 is a subscription based package that offers access to the latest desktop Office suite, Office Online, cloud storage, and premium mobile apps. Does Office 365 provide enough value to be worth the money? Read More , for businesses, but only if you want online-only access to Office. For the desktop versions of Office, you’ll need to pay $8.25 per user per month. Google gives you a slight discount for paying by the year, and stays firmly ahead of Office on price. Even if you just buy Office for personal use, it’ll set you back a couple hundred bucks.

Collaboration

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The entire Google Drive group of apps holds a fantastic advantage on the ability to collaborate with others. Excel allows you to use the Track Changes feature, but Sheets allows simultaneous editing—it lets you easily leave comments and communicate with your collaborators so you don’t have to email back and forth about changes.

Cloud Storage + Portability

While you can save Excel spreadsheets in Skydrive or Dropbox, you can’t beat Sheets for cloud storage. It’s automatically saved in the cloud, attached to your Google account, and accessible from any computer with a browser. No need to worry about another computer having the same version of Excel as yours or switching between Windows and Mac.

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Google and Web Integration

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If you want to use the power of Google or other websites in your spreadsheet, Sheets is the best way to do it. In his article on cool things you can do with Google Sheets Perform Amazing Feats With These Useful Google Spreadsheet Functions Perform Amazing Feats With These Useful Google Spreadsheet Functions I am ashamed to admit that I've only recently decided to start experimenting with Google Spreadsheets, and what I've discovered is that whatever allure or power Excel had over me due to the amazing things... Read More , Ryan showed how you can import an entire RSS feed right into your spreadsheet. You can also use functions like GOOGLEFINANCE(), which pulls in securities information from Google Finance, and GOOGLETRANSLATE() to translate the contents of a cell. Taking data directly from Google Forms to populate a spreadsheet is extremely useful. You can even create a map with Google Sheets data 7 Ways To Make A Google Map Using Google Spreadsheet Data 7 Ways To Make A Google Map Using Google Spreadsheet Data If you maintain a lot of data in Google spreadsheets, you've probably considered plotting them in a Google Map. Well, you can, but doing this is not quite as obvious as you might expect. Read More .

Better Cross-Platform Support

Excel works fine on a Mac, but Microsoft’s focus has always been on Windows, which means Excel for Mac gets “little brother” status. Most of the time, that doesn’t cause many problems, but it can be problematic when you’re creating macros with Visual Basic How You Can Make Your Own Simple App With VBA How You Can Make Your Own Simple App With VBA For those of you that would really love to be able to write your own application, but have never typed a single line of code before, I'm going to walk you through making your very... Read More . If those macros were created on Windows, they may not work on a Mac, and vice versa. With Google Sheets, it doesn’t matter what platform you’re on—it’ll work.

Revision History

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While you can save a bunch of different copies of a spreadsheet to create a version history with Excel, Google Sheets has it built right in. File > Revision History gives you a full history of all of the changes made to the document, which is great for keeping track of how large spreadsheets have changed.

Why You Might Want to Use Excel

There’s a reason why Excel is the industry standard when it comes to spreadsheets, especially when it comes to fields like accounting and the hard sciences. Here’s where it shines.

Data Processing

While there’s no hard-and-fast rule, a lot of people find that Google Sheets becomes pretty difficult to work with after you have about 1,000 rows of data. It’s just not built for that much data, and it tends to start getting very slow (I notice some slow loading in much smaller spreadsheets on occasion, as well). Excel, on the other hand, can get up in the hundreds of thousands of rows before you’ll need to consider using a different program.

Formulas

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You can do a crazy amount of amazing things with Excel formulas 3 Crazy Excel Formulas That Do Amazing Things 3 Crazy Excel Formulas That Do Amazing Things I have always believed that Excel is one of the most powerful software tools out there. It's not just the fact that it's spreadsheet software. No, Microsoft Excel 2013 simply has an awesome collection of... Read More , from doing your taxes Doing Your Taxes? 5 Excel Formulas You Must Know Doing Your Taxes? 5 Excel Formulas You Must Know It's two days before your taxes are due and you don't want to pay another late filing fee. This is the time to leverage the power of Excel to get everything in order. Read More to managing your entire life How To Use Microsoft Excel To Manage Your Life How To Use Microsoft Excel To Manage Your Life It's no secret that I'm a total Excel fanboy. Much of that comes from the fact that I enjoy writing VBA code, and Excel combined with VBA scripts open up a whole world of possibilities.... Read More . If there’s something that you want to do with data, Excel can almost surely do it. Need the arccotangent of a number? Use ACOT(). Need to use the Bessel equation for super-sciencey stuff? BESSELJ() and BESSELY() have you covered. Sheets is catching up, but if you need some really complex formulas to process your data, Excel is more likely to be able to help you.

Customization

If you spend a lot of time working with Excel, you probably do many of the same things on a regular basis. By customizing the ribbon How To Tweak The Windows And Office Ribbon Menu How To Tweak The Windows And Office Ribbon Menu That pesky Ribbon Menu. Ever since its introduction in Office 2007, I’ve been struggling to come to terms with it. I much preferred the Office 2000/2003 method of “hiding” tools that you don’t use often... Read More (the toolbar at the top of the window) and keyboard shortcuts, you can make it easier to access the tools you need, saving you time. Potentially a lot of time, if these are things that you do tens or dozens of times every day. While Google Sheets offers a lot of keyboard shortcuts, it’s rather lacking in the customizability arena.

Industry Standard

While “it’s the industry standard” doesn’t seem like a good argument for keeping it the industry standard, the ubiquity of Excel is an advantage. Importing Excel spreadsheets—even simple ones—into Google Sheets can result in weird formatting errors that you need to take the time to fix. And because you’ve likely been using Microsoft Office for years, the familiarity of Excel means it won’t take long for you to fire it up and get working, even with a new version.

Charts

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While Sheets is getting better at charts, Excel is hands-down the champion here. With more types of charts available, more options for formatting those charts, more options for error bar displays, and a host of options for quickly changing the layouts and styles of those charts, you just can’t beat it. If you’re going to be a giving a big presentation with high stakes, you want the professional quality charts Excel produces How To Create Attractive Professional Looking Charts Using The Chart Tools Of MS Word 2010 How To Create Attractive Professional Looking Charts Using The Chart Tools Of MS Word 2010 Charts, as an illustrated way of showing boring facts and figures, has always helped to embellish professional Word documents. Charts help readers compare data and understand trends with a glance. But how do you create... Read More .

Which Is Better: Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets?

As you may have gathered from the discussion above, both Excel and Sheets have their advantages. Sheets’ free price tag, the capabilities that it gains from being built for online use, and its emphasis on collaboration make it great for teams, productive road warriors Road Warriors: The Essential Gadgets Road Warriors: The Essential Gadgets Read More , and anyone who doesn’t need to do major lifting when it comes to data processing.

Excel, on the other hand, will appeal to people who need the absolute best when it comes to a powerful spreadsheet app. If you’re working with hundreds of thousands of cells of data, you need top-notch functions to perform complicated calculations, and you need to do it as fast as possible, Excel is the way to go. Especially if you’re working with other people who are staunch Excel users.

For now, at least, Excel rules the professional world. Google Sheets is catching up, though—I’ve worked with two companies who use it to collaborate, make plans, and track data. And students around the world certainly appreciate that it’s free.

If you’d like to enjoy all the benefits of Google Sheets without having to use Google or pay for Excel, you could of course try Excel Online, which comes free with the browser-based Office Online Don't Pay For Word! 5 Reasons You Should Use Office Online Don't Pay For Word! 5 Reasons You Should Use Office Online Office Online is the free and cloud-connected version of Microsoft Office. Limitations are compensated by features, useful even to users of desktop Office. Best of all is its Read More and a Microsoft account. Likewise, the Office Preview Excel app Microsoft Office Leaps Into a New Era with Touch First Apps & New Desktop Suite Microsoft Office Leaps Into a New Era with Touch First Apps & New Desktop Suite Office has been the gold standard for office suites for a very long time. Microsoft is working hard to keep it that way as it's expanding to new platforms and technology. Read More  for Android, iOS, and Windows is free and supports many of the features found on Google Sheets, such as collaborative editing, cloud storage, and cross-platform support via Office Online.

In the end, it comes down to your priorities.

Which spreadsheet app do you use? Which features do you find most advantageous? Share your thoughts below!

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