If anyone doubted Google’s interest in moving into the ‘office suite’ style applications, that doubt was erased by the announcement of Google Spreadsheet. We’ve been trying this very early test version and it’s already a very compelling service.
Google Spreadsheets is an early beta product that’s only available to a limited group of people by invitation. I know ‘beta’ get curious usage at Google with products staying in ‘beta’ for years sometimes. But in this case it’s clear the company knows there is plenty of work to be done.
You can create new multi-worksheet documents from scratch in Google Spreadsheets or upload a standard Excel XLS or CSV file to import into the service.
Naturally you can (and probably should) make a copy of data files to your computer for safe keeping.
All the common cell functions are there (SUM, AVERAGE etc) but there’s no documentation so using some of the more complex functions is still a matter of trial and error. There’s a limited equivalent of ‘freeze panes’ but it only freezes the top rows of a worksheet not the columns.
Sharing a worksheet is simple and fascinating to watch. If you’ve ever tried the fuss and bother of sharing a worksheet with Excel, this will be a revelation. You can invite people to access a worksheet either as an editor or viewing only. Editors can update the worksheet anytime with their changes showing up for other people within moments of completing a cell edit.
Some commentators have doubted the usefulness of a spreadsheet from Google pointing to the many people who rarely, if ever, use Excel even though it’s installed as part of Office. Google Spreadsheets might change that as people come to think of worksheets in a new, simple and collaborative way not available to most people in the past. Families, friends, clubs and small businesses will find ways to use the new service once it comes fully online. Many people use Excel as a simple flat database (instead of bothering with the complexities of Access for simple uses) so it would be good to see Google Spreadsheets build up the data manipulation options. Sort is already there but if they could add some filtering options I feel the team collaboration power of Google Spreadsheets would come to the fore.
Also necessary is something more detailed than simply ‘Edit’ or ‘View’ access, there needs to be a way to ‘lock’ some cells while leaving others for some people to edit. For example, a complex calculation with limited access so people can input new parameters without messing up the whole worksheet. Of course Excel has much more powerful worksheet sharing functions like tracking changes, cell locking etc but you need to pay for and install Excel plus back office services to get all that while Google Spreadsheets works with any modern browser plus an Internet connection.
Google Spreadsheets is still a work in progress but based on what we’ve seen it should be very popular.