A lot of hype has surrounded the debut of two new Web-based spreadsheet applications.
Both programs bring exceptional lineages. Google has not laid a cow yet, and VisiCalc helped set the for the concept that would ultimately become Microsoft Excel. Which you use in your enterprise now.
But neither of these utilities are Excel. They differ in four basic ways:
They are free. Excel- part of Microsoft Office as you already know – most certainly is not. We’re talking several hundred dollars a copy.
They are Web-based. Google Spreadsheets is entirely Web-based; you log on to the Google Spreadsheets application on the Google Spreadsheets website, and you number crunch there. WikiCalc is software, but is shared through the Web, where different users can work on the same spreadsheet.
They are collaborative. While it is possible to put your company’s Microsoft Excel on a network and enale several users to work on the same spreadsheet at once, getting there can be cumbersome. WikiCalc and Google Spreadsheets embrace the Web as a network. With a password, your colleague halfway across the country or world can log on to Google Spreadsheets, access the same spreadsheet you are working on, and perform adjustments and updates collaboratively. And in real-time to boot.
They are limited. WikiCalc developer Bricklin as well as the team behind Google Spreadsheets are both very clear that their creations are not for advanced calculations and other sophisticated number-crunching that Excel seems built for.
After going a round or two with Google Spreadsheets and WikiCalc, my verdict is: approach both with caution. “Collaboration” and “free” are two very attractive come-on words, but if you are doing that much collaboration, you probably have some sort of spreadsheet collaboration already enabled.
If you are a sole proprietorship or partnership with only a few users, then I would also stay away entirely from these utilities. Both are clunky, cludgy and non-intuitive for the individual user. The controls take a bit of learning to master- and once you master them are not that smooth to operate. And heck. You may have paid $400 or $500 for Excel- but you paid for it as part of a package that includes Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook as well.
And if you must there are free or very inexpensive alternatives to Microsoft Office such as StarOffice, EasyOffice and OpenOffice. Each of thse have most of Excel’s capabilities, are compatible with Excel, are easy to learn and operate, and can run across a network.
I just gave myself an idea. I’ll be writing about these Microsoft Office alternatives in a future Tech@Work.
So my bottom line: play with Google Spreadsheets or WikiCalc if you must. Or if you have some spare time, with nothing better to do.
Which, I am sure, you don’t.