The Five Reasons Google Docs Is Not Ready To Replace Excel

Today’s post is from guest contributor Olivia Lennox.

Not too long after the initial excitement of having an application that looks exactly as a spreadsheet is meant to open up in seconds within your browser, Google Docs starts to let you down. Everything from performance on large sheets to the presentation of data is substandard when compared to even the Excel that ships with the 2003 version of Microsoft Office.

Here are the five main areas Google need to tackle before power spreadsheet users can even think about moving from Excel.

1. Graphical Presentation Of Data

One of the first tasks we attempted to replicate was to store and present some stock market performance data from an online share dealing account. To be fair to Google Docs Spreadsheet getting used to entering data was simple and the chart was quickly on it’s own sheet after clicking the add chart button and choosing a few options.

Here was where the vast power of Excel that we take for granted was obviously lacking. How about adding trend lines to scatter charts? This seems currently to be an either/or only feature in Google Docs which is disappointing. In fact only a limited amount of customization is possible at all in the Graphing function. The end result of this test was a graph with the correct headings, colours and lines on Excel and a poor compromise of one line, and unwanted colour and style in Google Docs.

With Excel hardly at the zenith of the data presentation world (some apps like Jaspersoft are near this level) it’s not really possible to consider Google Docs a suitable contender while it rests a long, long way behind Excel.

2. Load And Usage Performance For Large Sheets

Many organisations use Excel to manage very large amounts of data and do modelling on that data using some pretty complicated formulas. I’d say being able to handle these sheets with ease on a mid-range PC typical of many office settings should be a very high priority.

Unfortunately Google Docs significantly disappoints. In some simple tests with opening one large sheet, amending some fields and waiting for the recalculation Excel actually finished before we were able to enter the field on Google. This was repeated on five separate mid range machines with above average Internet connections and two gigabytes of RAM.

3. The Range Of Data Analysis And Presentation Tools In Excel Blows Google Away

Google does have the basics right here. Sorting data and pivot tables worked well and relatively quickly (although on the machines we tested Excel was always faster as noted above) and was easy to figure out for an experienced Spreadsheet user.

The Data Analysis TookPak in Excel however is just so powerful it’ll be a long time before any Spreadsheet can match it – let alone an online-only solution. Many challenging University level and beyond projects can be completed using these tools as most statistical functions are supported. A good guide can be found here which also uncovers some of the pitfalls of using a spreadsheet for some of these tasks.

4. Change In Scripting Language

Whilst this is not necessarily a fair criticism of Google Docs they have chosen to use Javascript as their scripting language whereas Microsoft uses VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). Not only are more casual users familiar with BASIC from their education – it takes school children who’ve learned BASIC just a few hours to get scripting in Excel at a simple level but existing spreadsheets are now significantly more difficult to port to Google Docs. Any corporation with a range of large sheets containing scripts needs to think very carefully about a move.

5. Security Concerns

“Security consultant Ade Barkah checked in with us to alert us to a couple of serious security issues associated to Google Docs, the web-based office software from the world’s most famous search engine company, giving a whole new meaning to its mission to make the world’s information universally accessible.”
TechCrunch 2009

Throughout the years since it’s launched there have been a number of so far minor security issues with Google Docs. However minor these have been and however quickly Google has fixed them corporations used to controlling their own security will be concerned with these issues. Microsoft hasn’t always had a perfect reputation for security but to be fair to them spreadsheets on your own private server haven’t been busy sharing a few graphs of private information with the World Wide Web.


2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.