Excel vs. Google Sheets: Which One Is Better for You?

Dann Albright 25-05-2015

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.


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? 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.



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.


Google and Web Integration


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 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 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 Want to know how to make your own VBA application to solve problems? Use these tips to build your own VBA software. 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



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.




You can do a crazy amount of amazing things with Excel formulas 3 Crazy Excel Formulas That Do Amazing Things Excel formulas have a powerful tool in conditional formatting. This article covers three ways to boost productivity with MS Excel. Read More , from doing your taxes Doing Your Taxes? 5 Microsoft Excel Formulas You Must Know Your taxes are soon due and don't want to pay a late filing fee? Leverage the power of Microsoft Excel to get your taxes in order. Read More to managing your entire 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.


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 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.




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 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 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 Microsoft Word! 4 Reasons to Use Office Online Instead Microsoft Office Online offers free web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Here's why you should give it a try today. 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 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!

Related topics: Google Drive, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Office 2013, Microsoft Office Online, Spreadsheet.

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  1. A Truffle
    December 19, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    What the hell good is a spreadsheet that falls over if you use a complicated formula, or lags for ten minutes when trying to tab to a new cell... Sheets is the biggest pile of crap, made popular by all this crap about collaborative working. All well and good for sharing, but while its no good at being a damn spreadsheet I honestly cannot figure out why your all so brainwashed by it. Use OpenOffice if your too cheapskate to use a proper program like Microsoft. I hate Microsoft as much as any man, but at least their stuff WORKS!!

    Summary, if you want a glorified piece of paper with lines on, feel free to use Google crapps. If you actually want to manipulate data in a spreadsheet, get a clue and steer clear of that crap.

    • Dann Albright
      December 28, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      It largely depends on what you need it for. I have all sorts of relatively simple spreadsheets that I keep on Google Sheets, but when I was doing heavier statistical stuff, I'd use Excel because it offered more of the features I need. If it's taking a long time to go to a new tab or execute a formula, that's more likely your computer than the service; the vast majority of people I know who use Sheets find it to be very responsive, even when a couple different people are using the same spreadsheet.

  2. sandilands
    November 17, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Excel online is totally unusable compared to google sheets. how i wish, which again is CRAP, would open sheets in google sheets. arghhhhhhhh dfdddgvffgQ"!"

  3. Anonymous
    November 2, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Dann-

    There is one basic feature of Google Sheets that will keep me from seriously even considering trying to use this in place of Excel. No Page Setup. There is no way to adjust margins or fit to x page(s) wide by y page(s) high. While keeping it in the cloud is great, I still need a way to control the printing options. Google offers this functionality on their Docs, but not for Sheets. It's a deal breaker for me.Judging by the forums, users have been requesting this function for years, but Google has not implemented it, which is I think is a mistake on their part.

    • Dann Albright
      November 6, 2015 at 5:19 pm

      Yeah, I can see how that would be a deal breaker. I think Google is focusing on keeping everything online instead of printing . . . though if they have that functionality on Docs, I could be wrong. I can imagine that would be a highly requested feature, and it's strange that they wouldn't add it.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. Anonymous
    June 8, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    I use both extensively. I like the charting of excel - pivot chart is pretty neat. I do my home budget, and some other financial odds and ends with google sheets. The googlefinance functions are pretty powerful.

    • Dann Albright
      June 12, 2015 at 1:58 pm

      I think using both is a great way to go for a lot of people—both apps have their advantages and disadvantages, and the best way to balance them out is to use both!

  5. Will Boyer
    May 29, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Excel is the king when you want to completely automatize repetitive actions. I use many macros I've made everyday which significantly increases productivity. I can control apps using keyboard presses and transfer information to excel when I would normally have had to do it manually.

    • Dann Albright
      June 12, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Macros are great, and I think Google Sheets will stay firmly behind Excel when it comes to power users who use automations. Not very many people use them (at least compared to the number of people who don't use them), so Sheets is a viable option for a huge number of people. You're right, though—if you're doing complicated, repetitive things, Excel is the way to go.

  6. Shawn Black
    May 26, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    "...Even if you just buy Office for personal use, it’ll set you back a couple hundred bucks..." Where do you get "a couple hundred bucks" for Excel? I pay $99.99 per year for Office 365 Home which allows 5 PCs/Macs installations in my household as well as 5 mobile installations. On top of that I get unlimited storage on OneDrive. Although it tells me I have 10 TB I have as much as I need - 

    • Dann Albright
      June 12, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      I was looking at purchasing Office for a computer, not just leasing it with a subscription option. The Home & Business version is listed at $220, and the Home & Student at $140. So it's possible to spend a couple hundred bucks on Office, though most people probably won't go that route. Also, if you subscribe to Office 365 at $100/year, you'll pay $200 by the end of the second year. So I guess it all depends on how you think about it!

  7. forum7659
    May 26, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    I've played with both (the free versions). For me, regardless of ease of use or the increasing sophistication of these spreadsheets -- just the simple fact that neither will allow me to encrypt (password protect) my files makes both of them non-starters. I install 'office' apps locally on my devices (Kingsoft - aka WPS Office). My password-protected files are saved locally and synced to the cloud. I feel that I enjoy the same accessibility and ease of use while retaining security, privacy, and speed (no annoying lag time when working with bigger files).

    • Dann Albright
      June 12, 2015 at 1:53 pm

      If you're looking for encryption and other security features, neither of these is going to be great (as you found out). Glad that you found an alternative that meets your needs!

  8. Fred Hagedorn
    May 26, 2015 at 10:43 am

    Libreoffice for me is the best of both worlds.

    • Dann Albright
      June 12, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      I'm not familiar with LibreOffice's spreadsheet application. But if it has some of the better features of both Sheets and Excel, I'll have to look into it!

      • Anonymous
        June 12, 2015 at 5:38 pm


        If you are going to explore LibreOffice, I would highly recommend that you also take a look at WPS Office (aka Kingsoft Office). The latter comprises only three modules: word, spreadsheet, and powerpoint. It's a small fraction the size of LibreOffice and also opens up at a fraction of the length of time it takes LibreOffice to open and function. Much lighter and much speedier -- and yet, within the three modules, is a rich array of features. WPS also seems more faithful to MS Office (if that's important). I have used both, and much prefer WPS. They have a fantastic Android app too (which I use extensively when traveling with my tablet).

        • Dann Albright
          June 14, 2015 at 9:35 pm

          That sounds really interesting! I definitely like the idea of an office suite that takes up less space and opens faster. If it plays nice with MS Office formats, I might be sold!

        • Anonymous
          August 28, 2015 at 8:06 am

          I fully agree with your comments. LO feels clunky, whereas WPS is smooth & resembles XL, which is nice. 1 nice feature of WPS sheets over XL: it has tabs. So you can open multiple files in the same window.

        • Mihir Patkar
          August 28, 2015 at 9:07 am

          I'm a big WPS fan too. I don't get why LO has such a larger following than WPS.

        • Anonymous
          August 28, 2015 at 9:08 am

          LO is open source, WPS is not.