Yesterday, I introduced a short series of blogposts investigating the question: Where are Excel and Google spreadsheet headed?

Today we have the un-edited responses of Hiran de Silva and Bill Jelen.


Hiran de Silva

Even though Google spreadsheets, and Excel on the cloud, are designed for ‘many users to update a single spreadsheet from many devices/locations’ we’re still working with SINGLE spreadsheets … as if the work done on it is an end in itself, for and by one person.

But as we all know, every spreadsheet in an organisation actually forms part of a larger information process involving many people, in many departments and functions, in many locations, and involving enterprise systems too.

So – if we’re looking for productivity – what we really we need is the ability to, not just share the same spreadsheet but to ‘share the same data among many spreadsheet models, used by many people/departments/functions, and easily integrate with enterprise data’.

Neither Office 365 nor Google spreadsheets can achieve this. It’s not a design-goal of either.

However, Excel with VBA/ADO/SQL can, and does.

So, my answer to where do I think the present trend is going? As long as we continue to think of spreadsheets as a platform to perform ‘single-user stand-alone’ tasks (in the traditional paper spreadsheet paradigm) either will serve that purpose.

But only with Excel (with VBA/ADO/SQL) can we move up to another spreadsheet paradigm. This will only be accessible to those brave enough to change how we think of spreadsheets. (I am ruling out Excel Services as an option as it’s beyond the users’ reach).

Bill Jelen, Mr Excel

Bill Jelen, Mr Excel

Mr Excel: Google spreadsheets will never have VBA, so it will never be able to completely replace Excel. In my opinion, Google spreadsheets is trying to cover 80% of the functionality in Excel. Since most people don’t use more than 20% of Excel, then 80% is “good enough”. But the power users will always need the full Excel suite.

Oz: So, you don’t think that Google is trying to knock Excel off the throne.

Mr Excel: Maybe they are trying to kill Office, but it could be that Google would be happy getting the 60% of people who don’t use the power features.
That is a lot of people to whom to display ads.


Both Bill and Hiran paint a context from which to answer the question.

Bill comes from a very straightforward business perspective, and Hiran challenges how we think about spreadsheets. As we’ll see in later responses, there’s a recurring inquiry about how we think about spreadsheets and the role of spreadsheet users. We have to back up and deal with more than  tips-&-tricks. A dynamic SUMIFS function, for example, is in service of a much bigger solution. Maybe they’re trying to manage an inventory of 100,000 parts in 3 warehouses.

So, who cares if Google adds SUMIFS to it’s spreadsheet? The more interesting question seems to be “what are we trying to accomplish overall?” Hiran is in the world of managing enterprise level data using Excel as the front-end of a relational database, taking advantage of the strengths of both the database and the spreadsheet. Therefore, in Hiran’s estimation, Google spreadsheet can’t compete because Excel with VBA is the only way to go. And Bill says that Google will never have VBA.

Agree? Disagree? Please comment below.


IT Director Craig Hatmaker chimes in

So where are they going?  Microsoft is following Google’s lead.  Microsoft has NEVER shown any real imagination; but, it has always recognized a good idea when one comes along and ruthlessly responded to competitive threats.   So watch Google to see where Microsoft will go.

and Power Pivot Pro Rob Collie replies.

This whole “web Excel” thing is complicated by the difference between Authors/Power Users on one hand vs. Consumers/Casual Users on the other.   Bill [Jelen] argues, quite convincingly, that there is only one spreadsheet product that matters, and that’s the desktop “fat client” Excel. But I’d like to add the clause “for Authors/Power Users” to that argument. Casual Users actually are probably better off with the web versions. And Consumers of finished spreadsheets are DEFINITELY better off with the web version.