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Hands on: Google Spreadsheets 257

Posted by Hemos
from the reviewing-the-offerings dept.
feminazi writes "Google spreadsheets are more powerful than you might think, according to Richard Ericson. The free, Web-based service doesn't currently offer encryption, but the clean interface has standard drop-down menus, icons and buttons (just when MS is switching to "ribbons"). You can use it to work with existing files and "Formatting is simple, direct and fast. ... Sort, does precisely what you'd expect." Most importantly, it has most of Excel's functions -- including some that aren't listed or documented." We covered the launch of this program last week.
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Hands on: Google Spreadsheets

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  • by Douglas Simmons (628988) * on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:51AM (#15516847) Homepage
    Anybody nervous that Google may be letting their eye off the ball (their original business model) by going off on these tangential projects?
    • by Gulthek (12570) on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:53AM (#15516864) Homepage Journal
      Why nervous? Oh no, a successful company is continuing to expand?

      Why should anyone be nervous when a company continues to do what it does well?
    • by MrSquirrel (976630) on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:56AM (#15516879)
      What about when Sears created the Discover card (which is now its own company and Sears' future looks gloomy) or when the Wright brothers built a flying machine in their bicycle shop. It's a fundamental of business -- change is fact: you can either be part of it or watch it happen. Google is simply applying their resources to expand the productivity they offer the average user. I like it.
      • by david.given (6740) <`dg' `at' `cowlark.com'> on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:17AM (#15517007) Homepage Journal

        It's a fundamental of business -- change is fact: you can either be part of it or watch it happen.

        Not necessarily; for 37 years, the WD40 company produced exactly one product (I'll leave figuring out what they make as an exercise to the reader).

        There's a difference between change necessary to adapt to a changing marketplace, and change simply for the sake of change.

      • To be only partially nitpicky, Discover is now owned by MorganStanleyChaseManhattanBankOneFirstUSADiscover Bank (yep, all under the same ownership). But your point is correct and I agree!
        • Me thinks you are confusing two very similarly named but unrelated companies. Morgan Stanley owns Discover (Dean Witter and Van Kampen funds) but was not affilated with the house of Morgan (it was started by a former JP Morgan partners who left a JP Morgan predicessor prior to Drexel & Co's breakup due to the Glass Stegall act). JP Morgan & Co owns Chase and BankOne.
      • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:22AM (#15517048) Homepage Journal
        the average user

        Bill Gates got where his is by targeting "the average user", who didn't care about the difference between logical and physical partitions, root and user accounts, and command-line interfaces.

        The advent of cheap bandwidth and free browsers affords Google the opportunity to out-Redmond Redmond.

        As for the spreadsheet product, when the xpcom programming interfaces for Firefox support the kind of ad-hack programming achievable with MS-Office and VBA (hopefully without the insecurities), it'll be time to start going short on MSFT. I like it.
        • by omeomi (675045) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:42AM (#15517222) Homepage
          Bill Gates got where his is by targeting "the average user", who didn't care about the difference between logical and physical partitions, root and user accounts, and command-line interfaces.

          Bill Gates got where he is by convincing IBM that they weren't losing anything by allowing Microsoft to own all the rights to the operating system that came pre-installed on their computers, thus opening the door for the massive launch of IBM-clone companies, saturating the market. He was in the right time at the right place, and made the right decision.
      • by birge (866103) on Monday June 12, 2006 @11:21AM (#15517513) Homepage
        What about when Sears created the Discover card (which is now its own company and Sears' future looks gloomy) or when the Wright brothers built a flying machine in their bicycle shop. It's a fundamental of business -- change is fact: you can either be part of it or watch it happen. Google is simply applying their resources to expand the productivity they offer the average user. I like it.

        Do you know how many airplanes the Wrights SOLD? Do you see any of their bikes still being made? And you said yourself Sears is going down. Perhaps they would've done better to focus on their core business. Change IS good, but so is recognizing your limitations and core competency. People aren't arguing Google can't do this ok, they are just wondering if its a good idea to divert resources towards spreadsheets, of all things.

        • That's Insane (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ieshan (409693)
          If google had the chance to make the kind of impact on the world and on history that the Wright Brothers did, I'm pretty sure they would trade that kind of impact for the chance for their search business to be successful 105 years later.

          That would be like saying, "Man. If scientists Exxon were to invent cold fusion that would TOTALLY UNDERMINE THEIR GAS BUSINESS because someone else might steal the design and make more money off of it!"

          • Re:That's Insane (Score:3, Interesting)

            by birge (866103)
            I can't really argue with you about that, but wouldn't you rather impact history AND be around for the future? There's no reason they are mutually exclusive. It's just that history seems to find them rare. My guess is that first mover success is often correlated with traits that don't make for continued success. For example, one reason Google beat other people to search prominence is that they were willing to go public with something "good enough". There were a lot of people who were smarter, working on bet
      • http://www.google.com/finance?q=SHLD [google.com]

        Somehow, I doubt Sear's future looks gloomy.... In fact, they look great with positive earnings and positive growth. Just because you don't shop at Sear's doesn't mean the company is doing poorly.
    • by ceejayoz (567949) <cj@ceejayoz.com> on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:58AM (#15516893) Homepage Journal
      I'm betting they're doing it to make Microsoft take their eye off Google's ball - search and contextual ads.
    • by Nested (981630) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:04AM (#15516934)
      Although not their original business model, selling contextual ads has by far been their most succesful. In that sense, this new app supports that objective nicely.
    • by icepick72 (834363) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:17AM (#15517011)
      No because Google has money has the money to waste. Not all the employees can be focused on search and advertising. Belive me, they have enough resources on search and advertising to not be dropping the golden ball.
      Anyways, if they do drop the ball, somebody else will be happy to replace them. No worries there either ... unless you have Google stock.
      • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Monday June 12, 2006 @11:40AM (#15517656)
        No because Google has money has the money to waste. Not all the employees can be focused on search and advertising. Belive me, they have enough resources on search and advertising to not be dropping the golden ball. Anyways, if they do drop the ball, somebody else will be happy to replace them. No worries there either ... unless you have Google stock.

        I'd agree, except that their search hasn't improved in years, and they still haven't figured out how to(or just don't want to) get rid of the useless Made For Adsense (R) pages that are clogging searches these days.

        • I'd agree, except that their search hasn't improved in years, and they still haven't figured out how to(or just don't want to) get rid of the useless Made For Adsense (R) pages that are clogging searches these days.

          Those are things that throwing more resources at, isn't going to help. Those type of things require a more dedicated and devoted group of thinkers at Google. If Google was to stop peripheral activities, I think you still would not immediately see difference in the problems listed. Ever heard th

      • by hackstraw (262471) * on Monday June 12, 2006 @01:20PM (#15518367)
        No because Google has money has the money to waste.

        Give me a break. Google is simply different than most companies in this world. Waste? Yeah, that is why they picked a freely available operating system and still to this day use cheap OTS diskless servers so that they can save money. That is why every employee spends 20% of their time working on side projects. Oh, and those side projects have created things like gmail, and I would assume this spreadsheet program as well.

        Waste and haste are not in the Google mantra. They leave stuff in beta status forever. They have tons of little side projects like Google trends [google.com] Google sets [google.com], the list goes on and on.

        These guys are NOT the typical wasteful dot bomb guys of the late 90s. Most of those guys are out of business, Google seems to be doing pretty good.

    • by WickedLogic (314155) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:19AM (#15517020) Journal


      Google provides a services which is somewhat hard to do well (search). It makes money by selling ads (mainly) and services around what it does well (search). The more content there is, the harder it will be for google to have competition that will be able to sprout up, due to data glut.

      Remove the expensive cost of content tools, and more people can create more content, which they will WANT to search through. At the same time, remove your supposed competitors major source of revenue by fulfilling a need it would not, software that works, is light weight, and is free/cheap (good enough). This isn't just a smart move, it's about a shift in technology to provide people what they want and moving them toward benefiting your business model (designed to make money around what people want).

      Want to see another point you may have missed? (major speculation) Telco's limit content in a tiered system, google buys a little more dark fiber and lights it up. Starts a local isp business through techies who don't want a tiered net, and act as partners in a 'mashup' of reselling google network access. Us local techies not liking telco or nsa habits of late, serve as local wifi resellers via mesh networks to solve the 'last mile' problem. All the time, solving our consumer problems and generating ad revenue for google.

      Google has smart people doing smart things solving real problems with simple and very obvious solutions. No, I don't work for google, but if their looking... grin.
    • by I Like Pudding (323363) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:19AM (#15517021)
      Anybody nervous that Google may be letting their eye off the ball (their original business model) by going off on these tangential projects?

      No, most people are psyched about it. Long term R&D is something that is hardly encouraged anymore due to quarterly earnings pressure (*cough* HP *cough). Google, on the other hand, actually schedules programmers to work on side projects of their own design. They hire very smart people to think up the Next Big Thing so that they can exploit it. Contrast this with Microsoft expansion policy: throw massive amounts of cash at heavily entrenched markets, then fail to generate any profit. I much prefer Google's method to Microsoft's "send more men over the top" WW1-style attrition.
    • by alucinor (849600) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:31AM (#15517114) Journal
      Their mission is to organize the world's information and make it accessible to everyone. But Google doesn't really "organize information" so much as provide an organized view of information -- and that means creating user interfaces. Of course, this is what worries Microsoft, because as of now, they're the most common interface people use to bridge the gap between humans and technology, but search engines and portals like Google and Yahoo are quickly becoming the most common and important interfaces.

      So I'm sure Google wants to experiment with and learn as many interface models as possible, since different information requires different kinds of organization and presentation. As far as I'm concerned, they've nailed email and maps, though still have a ways to go with many of their other services.

      (As an aside, we can probably expect more integration of these services in the future. Google probably keeps all the data created via its services in a form similar to the Semantic Web -- just a proprietary version of it. I suspect that just as the relatively high level of integration provided by Microsoft applications raised people's expectations and led to a new era of cooperation between the non-MS tech companies, so also the level of integration Google's services provide for the web will be the driving factor that leads to increased collaboration in the Semantic Web: the push for a neutral commodity platform.)
    • This always was their business model, search was just the first way to pay for it. Google's mission is to provide a competitive platform to Windows. Since that sort of platform is a natural monopoly, there will be only one big survivor.
    • ahh, spreading themselves too thin, I get it! :-p

    • by artemis67 (93453) on Monday June 12, 2006 @12:48PM (#15518090)
      Think of it... all of the Google Spreadsheet files are stored on THEIR servers. When you open up your files, just like with GMail, the content will be searched for keywords and relevant AdWords will be displayed on the page. It's not that way now, but it's coming.

      And who is to say that Google won't index those files to create a marketing profile of you?

      The more of your data Google owns, the more sophisticated their profile of you becomes.
  • The key to this being an "Excel Killer" is not that it needs to be able to do everything (or even most) of what Excel can do. Most people barely use probably 2% of Excel's capabilities, and don't even know how to use much of the other 98%.

    The key to putting some hurt onto Excel sales, and MS Office in general is for Google to offer things like this that are "good enough" for the mass of home users that use 2% of Excel's product offerings. I personally have started using this for a couple personal spreadsheets that I have, where the network availability is more useful than having the whiz-bang Excel features.

    Let's not forget that Google has also purchased Writely, which may be a "good enough" web based word processor to start attracting the mass of people who use Word as a fancy notepad.exe with spell-check. I don't need a heavy duty Word processor for most of what I do, and many other home users don't either. Writely is not yet available for users to register, unless they got in pre-Google.

    While the Writely and Google Spreadsheets combo are not "killer apps" in terms of features, they may have enough functionality to put a serious dent in the very low end of Microsoft's user base.
    • The key to this being an "Excel Killer" is not that it needs to be able to do everything (or even most) of what Excel can do. Most people barely use probably 2% of Excel's capabilities, and don't even know how to use much of the other 98%.

      Yeah, but you still need to get to the 2% mark. I'm looking at this review, and I am utterly dumbfounded at some of the features it's lacking. For example, Charts would be incredibly easy to compute on the server, then download as images. Alternatively, they could use SVG support, or canvas support, or Javascript Drawings. Yet they completely leave charts out! I don't know of a single Excel user who hasn't charted their data at some point in time. If Google isn't supporting this, then they can expect users to dislike their spreadsheet.

      Similarly, the lack of online help is a no-no for a spreadsheet program. Users still need to do computations, even if they're as simple as addition, subtraction, averaging, and weighted averaging. Failing to include online help means that users will have no idea how to properly compute these formulas. Even just dropping the expected args into the text field would do wonders for usability!

      All in all, this article makes me believe that Google is buying into this "users don't need that much" mantra that makes sites like ajaxLaunch [ajaxlaunch.com] so laughable. GMail "won" because it provided a completely new way to work with email. It wasn't just the best Webmail apps, it was better than even installable apps! If Google wants to follow that success, they need to take that sort of innovation (*blech* sorry, weasel word) into their other office products. Otherwise, they're going nowhere, fast.
      • by sirinek (41507) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:20AM (#15517027) Homepage Journal
        Yet they completely leave charts out! I don't know of a single Excel user who hasn't charted their data at some point in time. If Google isn't supporting this, then they can expect users to dislike their spreadsheet.


        I don't use charting on Excel, and I gather a lot of others don't either. A fairly sizable number of people use excel in place of a database for things like contact management or inventories. It's not a feature that'd be critical to have available in a beta test.
      • this article makes me believe that Google is buying into this "users don't need that much" mantra
        Either that, or they're just following the "release early, release often" strategy, which gives them a chance to find out what users complain about the most so they can figure out which of those "98%" features are really needed and which can be left till later or for value-added or third party add-ons.
      • Just something I noticed. If you have a GMail account, and you've requested to be in the Beta Testing of the spreadsheet program, you may already be approved! I never received a confirmation from Google (perhaps it got caught in the Spam filter?), but I just went to http://spreadsheets.google.com/ [google.com] and found that I could log in!

        I have to say, the sheet has a nice feel to it. It really reminds you of Excel or OpenOffice Calc. Unfortunately, this comparison is quickly disappated once you start using it. Things I've noticed:

        1. Formulas are edited in the cell rather than having a text field on top. This is REALLY annoying to anyone who uses a spreadsheet program regularly. There is an uneditable text field at the top (doesn't work right in Mozilla 1.7.12), but it's not useful for anything other than ogleing at.

        2. Auto-resizing by double-clicking doesn't work. This is a core feature that I should think that everyone uses.

        3. No size indicator when changing cell sizes. I don't know about anyone else, but I always try to resize my sheets to about 14.25 points high, as this looks best. In addition, the indicator is a good way of knowing that you've got the right size for a row, rather than by messing with trial and error.

        4. You're limited to 100 x T cells. If you're one of those people with a lot of data, good luck. It doesn't look like Google will let you store it without manually inserting enough rows or columns to hold it all.

        5. The formatting menu is useless. It's got a few data types, and that is IT. If you need a custom style, or a date in one of the billion other formats, you're SOL.

        6. No cell borders. Raise your hand if you tend to mark headers with a cell border. (/Me raises hand.)

        7. The "Freeze Rows" command makes no sense. Why are you choosing the number of rows from a menu, when a multiple row-select exists?

        8. Sorting! Yippe! Now I can make my sheet into a database! (/sarcasm) Seriously, this feature actually works. I was expecting it to choke on numbers by treating them as text, but it automatically sorted then correctly. Score one for the team.

        There's a lot of other minor annoyances that I won't get into, but the above are the big ones. Unfortunately, I've just about covered 90% of the functionality. My verdict? It's not ready for prime time. If Google wanted to do this, perhaps they should have teamed up with Sun's StarOffice team.
        • by jfengel (409917) on Monday June 12, 2006 @11:06AM (#15517417) Homepage Journal
          I've worked with it on exactly one relatively simple spreadsheet, and I found numerous bugs just in that time:

          * Some important formatting disappeared. Not just column widths, but numerical formatting. The difference between "currency" and "not currency" is very important for the look of the sheet.

          * Re-exporting to Excel had a bug: it capitalized the sheet names, but didn't propagate that to formulas. Any formula that referenced another sheet became #VALUE

          * Even for the small spreadsheet I was using (a few sheets, dozens-not-thousands of rows and columns), scrolling was very, ver slow.

          This fairly simple sheet is what I think of as a canonical app for Google Spreadsheets: not mission critical, not large, not full of database lookups or macros. Maybe those are just beta complaints, but I've got to concur with your verdict: not ready for prime time.
          • Not only those, but I just had it futz up my numbers. I loaded my Moon Shot Cost Calculator [homeip.net] spreadsheet into Google SpreadSheet to see what would happen. Interestingly, it only displays the rows and columns I used. It also improperly sized column "C" so that "Wild Ass Guess" became "Wild Ass". :-P

            The real problem, however, was that it automatically used integers for the computations. As a result, the mass ratio shows up as "0" rather than ".996". All calculations that follow from that one (pretty much every
        • Formulas are edited in the cell rather than having a text field on top. This is REALLY annoying to anyone who uses a spreadsheet program regularly. There is an uneditable text field at the top (doesn't work right in Mozilla 1.7.12), but it's not useful for anything other than ogleing at.

          I work with spreadsheets daily, mostly with Excel, and have for years. Edit-in-place has been something I've wished every spreadsheet app would do for quite a long time. Its different, sure, but to me its good different.

          • Edit-in-place has been something I've wished every spreadsheet app would do for quite a long time. Its different, sure, but to me its good different.

            Pray tell, what are you referring to? Every spreadsheet program I've ever used allows for edit in-place, in addition to the text field. The problem is that edit in-place is very confining, and is usually only used for quick edits. The text field not only provides much more space, but it allows for more complex controls for formulas. Dropping the separate text f
      • Yeah, but you still need to get to the 2% mark. I'm looking at this review, and I am utterly dumbfounded at some of the features it's lacking.

        Since the user doesn't host the application on their machine, and upgrades are entirely invisible, the web application model that Google is using naturally lends itself to focussing more on making sure what is released is usable, reasonably bug-free, and designed right, not on making sure it has every feature that could ever be desired. New features can be added eas

    • by cygnusx (193092) * on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:06AM (#15516948) Homepage
      > While the Writely and Google Spreadsheets combo are not "killer apps" in terms of features

      Actually, Writely and Google Spreadsheet are Labs toys right now. However fast forward one year, with Firefox sporting an embedded database [bris.ac.uk], and Writely and Spreadsheets will look far less toy-like. Add support for rich controls from the WHAT-WG [whatwg.org] and in a couple of ears you have an office suite you can download on demand and run inside your browser. And you can work with it offline.

      And if you think Microsoft hasn't read the writing on the wall, you haven't been looking at XAML and IE7 very closely.

      • Although I find the dynamic of databases on 'both ends' rather interesting, I thought Mozilla were introducing SQLite into Firefox (for bookmarks etc), but now they're introducing Apache Derby too?
      • I travel a lot. Not only do I commute from home, school, and work, but I also take trips both personal and business-related. Meebo has already obviated the need for me to install Gaim or any other IM software on any of my systems. The computer terminals at work are highly regulated so I cannot install software or use USB keys. But because of Meebo, I have that functionality and I don't miss Gaim, AIM Triton, Yahoo Messenger, or MSN Messenger. Gmail has already taken over my e-mail and backup functions. (I u
    • Only problem with "Most people barely use 2% of Excel's capabilities, let's implement just that 2%" theory is - not all people use the same 2% of Excel, or any other software packet.
      • Yeah. This meme is kinda the opposite of the long-tail meme that's being making it's rounds.

        On the one hand you have people telling you that you don't need to engage in software bloat, you don't need to add every single feature, you don't need to give the consumer every signle option or customizability in a product or offering.

        On the other hand, you have countless numbers of folks touting the long-tail, whether it's the success of Amazon, or eBay, or Netflix, or what-have-you. The idea is that in offe

    • The spreadsheet was the first "killer app" for the microcomputer, wasn't it? Be interesting for the humble spreadsheet to still wield such importance after all this time.

      This could be big for Google, depending how they play it. It's not necessarily just the home user that could be the eventual target, the could offer the back end to businesses, ditto for other "office" apps. That would arguably be much more important, if in fact they are targetting taking on microsoft in that area, long term.
    • The key to putting some hurt onto Excel sales, and MS Office in general is for Google to offer things like this that are "good enough" for the mass of home users that use 2% of Excel's product offerings.

      I imagine if they wanted to put the hurt on MS's Excel sales, they'd target the business user, not the home user.

      I really don't think Google is out on a crusade to hurt MS. It probably doesn't care about MS one way or the other. It cares about driving more people to its search engine/advertising and creati

      • "The only way I can see MS hurting google is if they make IE point to MSN like Firefox does with Google"

        Well, IE already defaults to MSN.com with a new Windows installation, and MSN is the default search engine if you type stuff into the browser it doesn't recognize. That's in IE6 though.

        I do recall reading something here about MS putting MSN as the only 'preinstalled' search engine in the IE7 search box, although that was in an IE7 beta so it's possible the release will have additional searches installed.
    • The key to this being an "Excel Killer" is not that it needs to be able to do everything (or even most) of what Excel can do. Most people barely use probably 2% of Excel's capabilities, and don't even know how to use much of the other 98%.

      Who's saying it's an "Excel Killer"? My take is that it's yet another beta that Google tossed out. As others have pointed out, if Google were actually planning such a thing, they'd target the business users (which is where the money is). That means in particular, that

    • I find it sad that you and slashdotters in general support the idea that a product with 2% of the functionality of a richer product should "kill" off the richer product. If that's the future of software, then society is in for a world of crapware. Sure, the crapware will be "free" (as in beer), but that's because the crapware will be so primitive that a developer has no choice but to give it away for free (and support it with ads and whatnot). You support the idea of society being without rich products f
    • There are some fairly basic things Google Spreadsheets can't do. For example, you cannot add decorative formatting to cells, which means that creating a "schedule" kind of document in Google Spreadsheets is impossible. It also tends to mangle Excel spreadsheets you send up to it.

      I would never put real financial information on it. But for simple figuring, keeping track of the expenses you might incur on a trip, etc. etc. it's pretty neat. I won't abandon OpenOffice.Org anytime soon, but it's nice to have thi
    • If that were true, then why hasn't OpenOffice.org been an excel killer? It's well past the 2% mark.
  • by DikSeaCup (767041) on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:56AM (#15516878) Homepage
    "... it has most of Excel's functions -- including some that aren't listed or documented."

    Does that include vulnerabilities that act as infection vehicles for viruses/worms?

  • Why no ODF? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thebdj (768618) on Monday June 12, 2006 @09:58AM (#15516888) Journal
    I am really wondering about this. I mean I am sure it is on the list of things to do, but I would think the OpenDocument Format would have been a bit easier to implement then working with XLS would have been. Granted more people use Excel then OOo, but I still find it strange that ODF wasn't in the list of early supported file formats.
    • Re:Why no ODF? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JoshRosenbaum (841551)
      They might be using a pre-existing library/module that supports XLS, but not ODF currently. XLS support has been around for a long time and is stable while ODF is relatively new. (And possibly unstable.)
      • Re:Why no ODF? (Score:3, Insightful)

        They might be using a pre-existing library/module that supports XLS, but not ODF currently. XLS support has been around for a long time and is stable while ODF is relatively new. (And possibly unstable.)

        First off, ODF is not really all that new. It's just repackaged, genericized version of the original XML StarOffice/OpenOffice format and that's been around at least as long as Office XP (2002).

        Secondly, from what I can gather in looking at the functions list in Google Spreadsheets, it seems to be very clo
  • by vishbar (862440) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:09AM (#15516962)

    When I was at work, I decided to give Google Spreadsheets a shot (it wasn't for anything critical, just some simple calculations). I noticed one feature that, surprisingly, was not implemented--as far as I know, Google Spreadsheets can't merge cells vertically. Cells can only be merged horizontally. I ended up having to use Excel because of this one tiny missing feature. However, it's still in beta, and I am really impressed with what they've done. It's the second-coolest AJAX app out there (the first being Meebo [meebo.com]).

    Keep up the good work, Google!

  • Problems importing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SamMichaels (213605) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:13AM (#15516983)
    TFA mentions you lose some formatting...but I've had a ton of problems importing XLS. The majority of the time it adds random characters to the cells.

    Overall, I agree that it'll be a cool app. Right now it's just very beta and not usable in the real world so it's difficult to give a real review.
  • by WombatControl (74685) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:15AM (#15516998)

    Google's doing this in a rather smart way, IMHO...

    They're not chasing Excel's market. Nobody's going to be using this for business-critical applications, and this won't challenge the corporate market for Office. What Google is doing is chasing the long tail [wikipedia.org] of the market - the people who might want to use a spreadsheet, but have no need for Excel. Let's face it, for a quick and dirty budget, a team roster, or a simple document, Excel is more than overkill.

    What Google Spreadsheets has that Excel doesn't is simple collaboration -- no need to install SharePoint servers or any of that other Microsoft lock-in garbage required. Just add a few emails to a field and you're done. That is ideal for a whole host of simple, small projects. Say you're running a small business and want to have online schedules -- would you use Excel and some expensive Microsoft server setup, or just make a simple spreadsheet with Google and share it amongst your employees? It seems pretty easy to guess which one is the easiest and least painful option to someone without an IT budget.

    Google knows that if they try to compete with Office, they'll get crushed. So they're not doing that at all. Google Spreadsheets isn't an enterprise app, it's a quick and dirty system for simple tasks -- and it excels at being what it is. By capturing that long tail of users who don't need Excels features and won't pay Excel's price, Google can pick up a sizeable user base. The real question is what Google intends to do with those users and how they'll turn this into a revenue generator.

    • Of course it doesn't hurt that chasing the long tail also means implementing a minimal set of the simplest of spreadsheet features.

      You attribute genius to what amounts to an immature product. I think the real genius is the Google brand for engendering this kind of attitude.

    • Agreed. I use it to track my protein to calrorie ratio(How much protein I've eaten, how much calories I have left to consume for the day, what is the minimum ratio I need to be eating for the rest of the day, etc... to achive my target goal).

      Excel is really overkill, I don't need to spend money on Office for that. OO is overkill, wait, wait, wait, wait, ok, it's up.

    • Flawed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by misleb (129952)

      What Google Spreadsheets has that Excel doesn't is simple collaboration -- no need to install SharePoint servers or any of that other Microsoft lock-in garbage required. Just add a few emails to a field and you're done. That is ideal for a whole host of simple, small projects. Say you're running a small business and want to have online schedules -- would you use Excel and some expensive Microsoft server setup, or just make a simple spreadsheet with Google and share it amongst your employees? It seems pretty

  • Enter the Ribbon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:16AM (#15517003)
    I had no idea what a "Ribbon" was so I googled it, and found this page: Jensen Harris: An Office User Interface Blog [msdn.com] which neatly summarises a ribbon:

    One of the core components of the new user experience is something we call the "Ribbon." The Ribbon is a strip across the top of the window that exposes what the program can do.

    Following that description was an image which apparently shows a ribbon. I'm still having difficulty grasping where the ribbon starts and other user interface controls end because the image appears to be almost entirely full of user interface controls.

    The webpage went on to say: "One of the concepts behind the Ribbon is that it's the one and only place to look for functionality in the product. If you want to look through Word 2003 to find an unfamiliar command, you need to look through 3 levels of hierarchical menus, open up 31 toolbars and peruse about 20 Task Panes. It's hard to formulate a "hunting" strategy to find the thing you're looking for because there's no logical path through all of the UI."

    Well, this is one of those Duh! statements. There's no logical path through the User Interface because Microsoft has no strong conceptual model of the document or the application functionality. Therefore functions are placed almost at random within the menus, toolbars and task panes.

    Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought the menus were supposed to expose all the application functionality. "Ribbons" sound to me as though they are merely replacing menus. Perhaps they have more flexible layout.

    Overall it seems to me like Microsoft is implementing Ribbons as yet more eye candy to attract people to upgrade. The talk of increased usability is merely lip service, misdirection from the fundamental problem that I have with Microsoft's user interfaces. The page mentions that "most people don't click on an unlabeled 16x16 icon". Microsoft's at fault here for their feature-driven requirements. It seems to me that a requirement of Microsoft user interfaces (particularly Word and Excel) is that every possible piece of screen real estate needs to have some function: either an icon or clicking with the mouse will do something. That makes the interface incredibly busy - not good for newbies, perhaps not necessary for experienced users.

    • Re:Enter the Ribbon (Score:4, Informative)

      by PPGMD (679725) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:50AM (#15517286) Journal
      Commenting on something you haven't used, how very slashdot of you.

      I have the Office 2007 Beta, yes the Ribbons are different from the old version, but after a couple of days of working with them, they became natural, one benefit is that they are very flexible so you can have a very similar GUI between all the applications, something Office hasn't always had. Sure it's not a single reason to upgrade (heck I use Crystal 8.5 for some of my work, it has a horrendous GUI), but it's a nice upgrade to be had, and I am sure somewhere there is a menu where you can turn it back to the old style.

    • LOL
      You had no idea what the "ribbon" is (you still don't, BTW), and yet after 5 minutes of reading about them, you feel prepared to make all sorts of pronouncements about how useless they are. Typical know-it-all slashdotter. LOL

      Of course, if the ribbon had been invented by Apple, Google, OO.o, or any other of the companies about which you have wet dreams, you'd be praising them to high heaven. Too funny!
    • Re:Enter the Ribbon (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pherthyl (445706)
      I'm sure Microsoft has done a lot of usability testing that proves the ribbon interface is x percent more efficient and intuitive. However, in my experience, that just isn't the case. For us geeks, it's sometimes fun to explore a new interface and maybe it really is faster once you get used to it.

      However, I just got back from my brother's and his wife's place where they had accidentally installed the new office beta without recognizing it as such. Both of them absolutely hated the new UI because it was d
  • No thanks! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kimvette (919543) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:21AM (#15517040) Homepage Journal
    I'll stick with keeping spreadsheets on my own hard drive and servers, created with OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Excel.

    Thanks, but no thanks Google. I do use gmail for personal stuff but I do not and will not use hosted office suites. I have no desire for you to know how much I weigh, what my client lists are, how much I spend, my DVD and CD collections, or anything else I might use a spreadsheet for.
    • Most of those should be a database or in a personal wiki anyway. How much math do you do for any but the weight list?
    • I weigh 180Lbs. I'm 6'2" tall and can bench press 2000 Lbs. I have > $2,000,000,000 in the bank and I'm an incredible conversationalist. I'm always willing to try out new things, so if Mercedes or Lexus that wants me to try a experimental car or two, I'll be sure to give it a thorough review. My current client list includes 75 of the Fortune 100.

      I highly recommend everyone put as much creative writing as possible on the web.
  • The real story (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ndansmith (582590)
    I think the bigger story here is that Google appears to be building an entire web-based office suite to go toe to toe with Microsoft (and OO.o?). They already have a mail client, word processor (Writely), and spreadsheet. What's next?
  • I want my effin' easter eggs!
  • Working a bit in litigation support, I know that a significant amount of time and money is spent trying to make excel spreadsheets presentable as evidence in a courtroom (Arthur Anderson anyone?). There is an entire industry supported by excel being a whopping pile of crap to work with. If a better alternative were to take the market, it would definitely be championed by a world full of corporate lawyers. And I'm sure the lack of privacy is making the NSA positively bubbling with anticipation.
  • by kiscica (89316) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:31AM (#15517112) Homepage
    I thought it might be interesting to import into Google Spreadsheets the database I keep of my movie collection. That's about 2,000 lines long, by a few columns, but first I just tried a single column of titles. Nothing fancy -- just a sorted list. I made a .csv file and uploaded it -- it was only about 50K, so that step was plenty fast.

    When I tried to actually open the imported spreadsheet with Google Spreadsheet, however, it just hung. I waited about an hour then killed Firefox. Tried twice with the same result.

    That was with 2,000 lines; I guess I'm not going to be trying the application out with my 30,000-line book collection database or my 25,000-line record collection database any time soon :-) A pity, 'cause having these online from anywhere I can get to Google was an intriguing idea (although I have my own site for that). My impression of Google Spreadsheet is "neat, but basically toy." I don't use Excel very often either, but I do know it has no trouble with spreadsheets that are tens of thousands of lines long (nor would I expect any modern standalone spreadsheet to).

    Kiscica
    • As a life long student of the markets, I've got a large number of spreadsheets that I use to track various indices, shares, bond prices, what have you. I'm currently using .Mac across several machines, and thought I'd give Google Spreadsheets a try.

      I tried to upload daily NYSE closing prices from 1929 to date, about 21K rows and roughly twenty columns. It was a native XLS, and after maybe five minutes I got an error message, something along the lines of "Opps! We can't process your request at this time".

      O
  • by dtsazza (956120) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:32AM (#15517120)
    FTS:
    Most importantly, it has most of Excel's functions -- including some that aren't listed or documented.
    I'd be quite interested in knowing what those undocumented functions are. Then, after I've been enlightened, I'd like to know how many people actually use them.

    I mean, you've all heard the 80-20 (or 90-10, depending who you ask) law - and it's a valid point that there are many people still running Office 97, since it does everything they need from it. Makes you wonder whether it was really worth Google's while including these features - I guess anyone that uses them is likely to really need them, and is a power-user likely to trust Google as their primary(/only) spreadsheet app?

    For the moment, Web 2.0 stuff is undoubtedly cool and useful (Google's own Maps and GMail both good examples of both), but I wouldn't really want to rely on it. It'd be like only having a mobile phone - most of the time you don't miss a landline, but when you need to make an emergency call, you don't want to be without one. Anyone else feel the same?

    (Don't get me wrong, for casual stuff like writing birthday letters this'd be great - I'm thinking of the people running businesses off it here.)
  • by Chas (5144)
    Awwww crap! The deal's off! I'm the one person in the omniverse that actually uses it!

    [Doctor Evil] No. Not really.
  • Tried it... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bluesman (104513) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:52AM (#15517303) Homepage
    Just last week I was wishing there were an online spreadsheet so I could organize some simple budgets from the thousand different computers I use. I love having my gmail account because it's a decent enough mail client that I can access from anywhere and doesn't require any maintenance on my part.

    But the spreadsheet was just not ready for prime time. The limitations of a browser hacked to do what really should be done by a local app really showed. Even the most basic things didn't work as expected (copy/paste buttons instead of working shortcuts? No thanks.)

    What would be ideal would be enough easily browsable online storage so that I could work on my spreadsheet locally and save it online. There's no way for Google to make money off such a thing, though, so I don't see it happening. (And yes, I know about the gmail-based filesystem that Linux has.)

    I really wish we'd get away from the idea that all of these apps have to be implemented in a browser over HTTP. There's a reason nobody ever developed a GUI toolkit that works like that -- and it's because it's a horrible mess, and makes simple things hard and hard things impossible.

    Unfortunately, with the way people are diving head-first into AJAX because it's the latest thing, I'm sure we'll be stuck with it forever.

    Next stop -- an AJAX web browser. Mostly feature complete.

  • I can use this! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rueger (210566) on Monday June 12, 2006 @10:59AM (#15517358) Homepage
    I'm working with team in another country right now. We've been emailing Excel sheets back and forth to track a variety of issues. This is a tool that is perfect for our needs.

    We don't need super encrypted security, but we do need an easy way to keep our work in sync. We really don't want to start installing new tools for just one project.

    Google has winner on their hands with this one. It's good enough for many jobs, simpler than Excel, and makes sharing a spreadsheet simple and fast.
  • by LFS.Morpheus (596173) on Monday June 12, 2006 @11:00AM (#15517372) Homepage
    Well, anything is better than the current Apple spreadsheet offering [about].
  • Google is trying to distract microsoft in a big way. Some small apps and strategically done publicity will have the whole world raving about "the Office Killer" from Google. It will surely hurt MS's core competency. At the same time it will also divert MS and others from concentrating on Google's USP, search.
    Not that I'm saying google spreadsheet is an eye wash. I have used it and I liked it. But it is not an excel killer. More akin to my cousin's final semester project. Cute, Usable but not an office alter
  • I get the impression the google spreadsheet is implemnted in Ajax-type technologies? I don't get it; surely Java is ideally suited to implementing an online spreadsheet. All these years later [novell.com], I'm still waiting for a decent online office suite, and for the life of me I can't figure out why nobody has really delivered. (Hello, Sun, are you there?) I'll admit I've been out of web development for several years, but AJAX strikes me as a mess of weak tools like javascript. Is it really the best choice for s
  • Can it open or save Excel spreadsheets?

    The most important feature of any office app is its ability to use the vast amount of existing data, mostly stored in Microsoft format. That's Microsoft's second most powerful self-perpetuating monopoly abuse, after pure momentum.

    Google has unprecedented access to computer power, smart people and example files, without the baggage of backwards compatibility to any of its own proprietary formats. Their most powerful feature would be freely interconverting all the office
  • it has most of Excel's functions -- including some that aren't listed or documented.

    I always use unlisted, undocumented functions...
    ...as soon as I can find out about them.

  • ...but virtually impossible to run under the bandwidth that I use. I applaud google for doing this, but we need bandwidth! What's the solution? Google starting to use some of that dark fibre they have to force local ISPs to actually have competition.
  • Having just gone through a company forced seminar on data security and what not to allow outside the wall of the building, the missing link in the release of this tool is security. Many of the users of Excel are corporate employees or business owners. As one of the corporate un-washed mass I tried out googlesheets using made up data, then an existing spreadsheet. Only after I opened the file did I remember to ask the question, where is this data going? When tried a save I noticed that it was not saving
  • by sweetnjguy29 (880256) on Monday June 12, 2006 @12:22PM (#15517938) Journal
    Another great online spreadsheet service is Numsum. They are located at http://numsum.com/ [numsum.com]

    I haven't tried out google's spreadsheets yet, but I can tell you why online spreadsheets are the way to go...they allow people to share mathematical ideas and calculations easily.

    For example, I created a spreadsheet that compares various hourly rates for contract workers. http://numsum.com/spreadsheet/show/20511 [numsum.com] -- its not perfect, but it allows anyone, including someone without any technical knowledge, access to quick and easy information. There are Ebay spreadsheets, Business Spreadsheets, etc, available free of charge. Imagine how powerful that can be!
  • by AVryhof (142320) <<moc.bawag> <ta> <fohyrva>> on Monday June 12, 2006 @12:23PM (#15517943) Homepage
    Google is doing what they are destined to do. Think about it for a minute.

    With an online Spreadsheet, Word Processor (writely), E-Mail, and Web Page Editor on top of supporting a Web Browser that runs on just about all of the most popular platforms (Firefox Of Course) Most home users will no longer need to have Office installed, or even Windows at that.

    I know many people who are happy using Wordpad to do word processing, and just use Excel for simple things like their check book, lists of stuff, and such. Well... Writely and Google Spreadsheet fit the bill, Gmail can effectively be a replacement for Outlook to MOST USERS (not all) Gmail for domains, no more need for Exchange server, Google hosts it... Google Pages... replace Frontpage and IIS at the same time.

    Now that this all comes together think about this. Got a computer with Firefox, Mozilla, or a recent release of Netscape? If you don't... you can for FREE. Now think about this. Dell starts shipping Google software preinstalled on their machines...(yeah, you read it here) They already have a portal with Google. How hard would it be to sell their entry-level systems with links to these applications as their Office suite? Piece of cake! They have just replaced MS Works, or that Word Perfect Demo that came with my machine at work... for free, through an alliance they have already made.

    How much of a jump is it to offer a Linux box with the same thing... no problem at all..it all works.

    That is how Google can make Microsoft Irrelevant, and Microsoft knows this, so they see Google as their biggest threat.

    Just another conspiracy, or are the facts too irrefutable to ignore?

    My 2 cents..
  • by technopinion (469686) on Monday June 12, 2006 @02:19PM (#15518824)
    Is here [geekmix.com]

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