Google Sheets vs Microsoft Excel

We pit the online spreadsheet giants against each other to see who is top dog

Microsoft's Excel is probably the most widely used spreadsheet program across Windows machines and Macs, and that's for good reason - it allows for the most complicated or the simplest of spreadsheet creation and editing. It was first launched in 1987, making the application over 31 years old.

What's also great about Microsoft Excel, like its word processing counterpart Microsoft Word and presentations equivalent PowerPoint, is that it's available in a wide range of versions, including the online-only Microsoft Excel Online, which we'll be focusing on in this comparison.

Google's spreadsheets equivalent - Google Sheets - launched in 2006. Although it doesn't have the same legacy as Microsoft's Excel, Google has put together a decent online-only application for creating, editing and sharing files. It's the perfect option for those wanting to be able to collaborate and edit spreadsheets concurrently, without losing changes and offers complete transparency for any party sharing a sheet.

It also has many of the same features as Microsoft's market-leading spreadsheets application, and other features can be very easily added on via extensions.

The question remains - is the legacy spreadsheet editing program the truly better option, or is Google's equivalent good enough for business power users? We've put the two head-to-head to see which truly is the king of the online spreadsheets.

Microsoft Excel Online

Rating: 4/5

Price: Free for home use; Office 365 Business Premium, £7.80 per user, per month  


Excel Online is the free web-based version of Microsoft’s spreadsheet application. However, it is not the powerhouse that the desktop version of Excel on Windows is. Far from it. However, that is not to say it doesn’t have its merits.

It comes as part of Office Online (there are also versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook, to name a few). It works with Microsoft’s default document formats, but there will be some complex spreadsheets that won’t work with this online version. But as far as everyday spreadsheet creation and editing are concerned, this won’t be too much of a problem.

Not everything is plain sailing. Microsoft says that the online version offers “light editing”. It does note that workbooks exceeding 10MB cannot be viewed in Excel Online, let alone be edited. Also, features such as advanced formula tools, replace cell contents, conditional formatting, etc., aren’t part of the online experience. (In fact, if you need to know what Excel Online and its Office siblings can’t do, here is a handy link). 

You need a Microsoft account to access Excel Online and this means that you can also automatically save documents to OneDrive. (If you use Excel Online as part of Office 365, documents are saved to the execrable OneDrive for Business). 

As with Office 2016, Excel Online has a “Tell me what you want to do” search bar, which is handy if you need to find features in a hurry. There are also collaborative features so you can work on the same spreadsheet with others in real time.

Excel Online does default to OneDrive for file storage, but you can also open up files from Dropbox from within Excel Online. With other cloud storage services such as Box, you will have to go to the cloud storage service’s website and open up the file from there.

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