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Is Google Spreadsheets for You?

Before you start using Google Spreadsheets for your important number-crunching work, you need to ask the question, "Is Google Spreadsheets right for my particular needs?" The answer, of course, is that it all depends.

If your needs are simple, Google Spreadsheets should be a good fit. I’d recommend Google Spreadsheets for the following types of users:

  • Beginning spreadsheet users. If you’re just starting out in the spreadsheet world, there’s no better place to start than with Google Spreadsheets. The application’s slightly limited functionality actually works to the benefit of beginning users; you won’t be overwhelmed by all the advanced options that clutter the Excel workspace. Plus, Google Spreadsheets is extremely easy to use; everything you need is right out in the open, not hidden beneath layers of menus and dialog boxes.
  • Casual spreadsheet users. Google Spreadsheets is also a good choice if you have modest spreadsheet needs. If all you’re doing is creating a few lists, or totaling a few numbers, or creating a simple budget or two, Google Spreadsheets gets the job done with ease.
  • Anyone who wants access to their spreadsheets from multiple locations. If you work on the same data at work and at home (or on the road), you know what a hassle it is to carry your data around with you from computer to computer—and keep it synchronized. Google Spreadsheets solves this problem. Wherever you are (home, office, on the road), you’re always accessing the same version of your spreadsheet file, stored on Google’s servers.
  • Anyone who needs to share their spreadsheets with others. Sometimes you need others to view what you’re working on. Maybe you have a family budget that you and your spouse both need to see. Maybe you have a soccer team schedule that other parents need to view. Whatever the need, Google Spreadsheets lets you share your spreadsheets with anyone you like, over the Web.
  • Anyone who needs to edit their spreadsheets in a collaborative environment. Sharing is one thing; collaborative editing is another. If you need multiple users to both access and edit data in a spreadsheet, Google Spreadsheets lets you do things that are impossible in Excel.

All that said, Google Spreadsheets isn’t for everyone. So who shouldn’t use Google Spreadsheets?

  • Power users. If you’ve created your own custom spreadsheet or database applications in Excel, Google Spreadsheets is not for you. It lacks many of Excel’s most advanced features, and simply won’t get the job done. Same thing if you use a lot of macros and advanced functions; Excel has a lot of high-end features that Google Spreadsheets doesn’t.
  • Anyone who wants to create charts and graphs. Google Spreadsheets, at present, lacks a graphics engine. This means no pie charts or bar graphs. If you need graphing capability, stick with Excel.
  • Anyone who wants to create sophisticated printouts. Likewise, Google Spreadsheets lacks some of the more sophisticated formatting options that some Excel users take for granted. (No cell borders, for example.) With Google Spreadsheets, what you see onscreen is exactly what prints out—for better or worse. If you need fancy printouts, Google Spreadsheets will probably disappoint.
  • Anyone who needs to work when not connected to the Internet. This is the blatantly obvious one, but if you’re not connected to the Internet, you can’t connect to and work with Google Spreadsheets. For working offline, you need Excel.

So if you’re a beginning or casual spreadsheet user who doesn’t need fancy charts or printouts, or if you need to share your data or collaborate online with other users, Google Spreadsheets might be for you.

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