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Google Spreadsheets

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While discussing the efficiency of different search engines with Scott recently and I wanted to stress my point that from my point of view the MSN search engine is a bad joke as they download a lot from our site every month but refer hardly anything, I wanted to present the relevant numbers in a nice way. Which was a good excuse to try out Google’s new spreadsheet service.

I have been using spreadsheets for a long time. Back in the late 1980s on my Atari ST I started playing with them and did a list for a friend’s record collection, listing data like the price and duration of each record. That spreadsheet was later moved to Claris Works where it grew for many further years and became an interesting view on an impressive collection of vinyl (until the friend’s Mac broke and he got a cheap PC instead).

But I’ve also done other things like physics simulations or data evaluations at school or our flat’s shopping costs, and the odd computation that is needed. All in Claris Works. And, surprisingly, I’ve done quite a bit of work in Excel as well. Ranging from some work I did for a tax consultant, with a lot of numbers to be handled and sheets having to pick the correct tax schemes to an internship where I worked on a model for the reliability data for a module on the space station.

The latter was quite interesting and apart from the fact that I could print a huge sheet of paper full of numbers and graphs from it which kept the managerial types rather impressed, I got to learn quite a bit about Excel. What I learnt is that once you dig across all the levels of bugginess, you can actually implement your own functions for Excel to use in its cells. Which I appreciated as it meant I could actually model things and see whether they worked as they are supposed to without having to do dirty programming work where I’d waste most of my time handling all the input data and displaying all the output data. So I’d say of all the MS Office products Excel is the least crappy one (although it could be much better).

Of course I expected nothing like that in Google’s web based spreadsheets. And Google doesn’t offer it. Indeed, Google just offers basic computations, which I’m pretty sure will cover 90% of the spreadsheets that people do. After all, business stuff isn’t exactly computationally sophisticated or demanding.

Once you’ve taken the hurdle of not using Safari, the spreadsheet comes up rather quickly on screen with the Web 2-ish JavaScript and iframe goodness all around. The table itself, is made of a number of actual HTML tables, which I appreciate. And, well, you can enter numbers, do some computations, do basic editing, import and export data to common formats, have your data automatically stored on Google’s servers for their amusement and so on.

I quite liked it. With all the colourful buttons and gazillions of menu items you have in other spreadsheet applications, Google’s web spreadsheet gives us simplicity again. You enter some numbers, you enter a formula or two, you do some copy and paste and you get the results you want. No assistants or Pivot tables getting in your way when doing that. And while you can’t draw graphs at this stage you can still prettify your table with colours or you can merge cells horizontally.

So while I wouldn’t want to use it for anything vaguely important, I think it’s a nice and simple tool that lives up to its task. Even better, it’s the perfect tool for sharing such nonsensical computations as you can easily (well not quite easily as the Google imperium requires everybody to have an account on their Death Star, so I can’t simple give an URL for public viewing of the spreadsheet here which sucks) invite others to look at or edit your spreadsheet. And of course you’ll find the invitation you sent in your GMail if you care. And not only can you share the spreadsheet, you can even edit it simultaneously with several people and have a convenient chat panel at the side while doing so (the chats of which don’t seem to be stored to the GMail account, though).

Yeah, it’s quite cool and surprisingly good to use considering that it lives in a web browser (ahem, if you have a ‘suitable’ web browser and don’t need assistive technologies at least). That said, I’m not sure it’ll actually be useful for any real tasks. But even then it’s an interesting study.


Oh, an my point about the search engine referrals for our site was that Google refer about 70 people per megabyte they download (or 120 if you include their image referrals which might be dodgy), while Yahoo refer about 10, ‘others’ about 1.5 and MSN less than 1. In that sense MSN is quit inefficient if downloads are considered bad (which they are as bandwidth costs money) and referrals are considered good (which they are for my vanity at least - it’s not that we’re running a business here)

June 22, 2006, 0:46

Tagged as software.

Comments

Comment by dan: User icon

Back in the flat I’m attempting to use Goolge spreadsheets for organising and splitting all our bills - it’s quite nice in the way that we can all add our own bits and check that no one is diddling anyone else.

I think this ‘live’ office idea is great and the more I think about it the more ways I can imagine using it in future. Also, thanks to MS being so slow their live office subscription service will be just finding it’s feet whilst Googles free services will be becoming the standard.

June 22, 2006, 13:14

Comment by ssp: User icon

I’d really like doing that but I suspect with my flatmates being as lazy as they are it’d all end up in me having to harrass and help them to actually do it… which makes my old-school spreadsheet the better tool as I can do it and finish doing it when I want.

A shame.

June 23, 2006, 2:15

Comment by Aaron: User icon

I also think the the goodle spreadsheets are simple and easy to use.

July 28, 2006, 18:24

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