We’re almost at the end, good people.

The initial question about Where Are Google Spreadsheet & Excel Headed? has taken us in so many directions. Today, we have commentary from Jordan Goldmeier and Carl Arriaza. Oh! And one surprise announcement:

Tomorrow was supposed to be the closing comments but we will also have input from a late-comer. The one and only, spectacular and almighty Szilvia Juhasz of Xszil Consulting.

XSzil

Szilvia Juhasz

JORDAN GOLDMEIER, Excel MVP & Author of Dashboards for Excel

Jordan Goldmeier

So long as Microsoft and Google are around, they’ll always be in competition in some way or another. It’s hard to know in the future if the spreadsheet applications offered by Microsoft and Google will become comparable products. Right now, however, I would think they are not comparable, at least, not as whole products. On the other hand, both applications significantly overlap in their offerings. And, without a doubt, Microsoft and Google are competing for gains in the cloud storage and document space.

What Google has going for its spreadsheet software is that it’s (generally) free, easily integrated, and pretty approachable for newcomers. Perhaps viewing twitter complaints doesn’t grab the entire picture, but there appear to be less complaints about Google than Microsoft on twitter concerning the use of each spreadsheet application. It’s clear to me that the folks who use Google spreadsheets like them a lot. And, for what it’s worth, I’ve used Google spreadsheets on a number of occasions. Most notably, I used it to store data which I pulled into a web application using Google’s RESTFul API. It was a free and easy solution.

That said, I would never use Google spreadsheets to develop the much beloved decision support systems and dashboards clients ask me to make for them with Excel. The fact is, while both Google and Microsoft make spreadsheet software, Excel is just so much more than a spreadsheet application. The availability of userforms and VBA make Excel a fundamentally different and better tool, at least for what my clients need. It’s true that Google has form and scripting elements available in their spreadsheet applications, but they are of almost no use to anyone. These items work in Google Sites, which is painfully hard tool to use, and by Blogger, which as far as blogging goes, is an abomination from hell.

Therefore, the challenge for Microsoft to compete with Google is to replicate the usability of their standalone products for the web. For much of web preview, Microsoft is well on their way. But some of their other web features are a step backwards. Excel Interactive View is awful. It may make for great eye candy, but it actually works against our ability to do full analysis. It splits up important data usually presented in one view into several smaller ones. Microsoft has also created “mashups,” which appear to be a lot like Google forms. But I just don’t see a real business need for these. Google spreadsheets can’t do what Excel can do. I would like to see Microsoft do more to exploit this deficiency.

Both Microsoft and Google have another competitor to look out for: Tableau, of course (and, Tibco Spotfire, too). Many folks who once did data analysis the hard way in Excel are finding they can do the same stuff more easily in Tableau. Tableau isn’t a full replacement for Excel, but many of Tableau’s features should have already existed in Excel when you consider what Excel is used for. What Tableau is doing is shaping the direction of Microsoft’s development in my opinion.

That said, Microsoft appears to not understand why good data analysts like Tableau. Microsoft’s PowerMap is cool in its ability to create great looking maps in Excel, but Tableau does it better. For example, Microsoft has put a lot of marketing in PowerMap’s worthless ability to create three dimensional visualizations. I think PowerMap is dumb. “Data stories,” aren’t a real thing. It’s a marketing gimmick used to justify the unholy combination of charts and Microsoft Flight Simulator. Flying around your data won’t give you better insight into it.

But PowerMap gives us a glimpse into the future of Excel. Be it web or standalone, users will need a way to do data analysis. It’s clear that many companies are interested in how they can make the transition between these technologies seamless. In my mind, if Microsoft keeps putting forth data analysis products that aren’t useful, they’ll be easily replaced by another company, at least in the data analysis arena.

CARL ARRIAZA, Founder & CEO of Tech on Wheels

carl arriaza - tech on wheels

 Carl   Google Spreadsheet has been online since 2006. April 2010 is when folks have been able to work on the same doc in real time. Microsoft is playing catchup. Excel is a pricey app. Most folks do not need that much power, so google fills a role at a cheaper cost per user.

Oz    We could argue whether $99 is pricey, but compared to “free” $99 is pricey. Your bottom line is that most folks don’t need Excel power, and you wouldn’t say that Google is going after Excel power users. They’re offering a free product to the vast majority who are beginner to intermediate spreadsheet users.

Carl

yup 90% of the folks, maybe use 10% of excel or the power of it also with the ability to share in real time with others in a browser, that makes it user friendly

Oz

True. I do agree that few people use or even need all that power. But every time I look up, Google has added an Excel feature that wasn’t there a month ago. Now, it’s available offline. It’s like Excel and Google crossed paths. That’s what really made this interesting for me.

 Carl

its a spreadsheet they have common needs google has an advantage over microsoft google search they see what folks are looking up related to spreadsheets

Oz

true Ah! You’re right about that.

Carl

but its browser based, no need to install software

Oz

got it! I’m gonna work on this over the weekend and will let you know how it goes. This is gonna be fun.

Carl

Ok Ttyl

SUMMARY & COMMENTS

Very different perspectives today, and indicative of why this inquiry has gone in so many directions. Carl speaks for the people who are just trying to get their jobs done and will never in life need to build something like an interactive dashboard or scrub 100K rows of data. Jordan talks about hardcore analysis, APIs, and his own advanced use of both Excel and Google spreadsheet.

Jordan’s is another voice that reminds us that there’s more than Excel and Google spreadsheet. And he believes that Microsoft isn’t doing a very good job of creating useful tools vis-√†-vis competitors like Tableau. But I have to go back to Carl’s point about cost.  There’s the free Google spreadsheet; stand-alone Excel at $85 to $99; and Tableau at $999 or $1999 PER USER. But data visualization is just one single way that we use spreadsheets.

With all of the responses so far, the response to the question about where these spreadsheets are headed seems to be:

  • For whom?
  • For what?
  • Why?
  • Within what budget?

TOMORROW

SZILVIA JUHASZ, Principal at XSzilConsulting

Making the “better” product is one factor, yes.  The ability to effectively predict what the fickle market will want now, and in the future is the next challenge. In many ways Google has been more forward thinking.