Section 1. Introducing Google Spreadsheets

Section 1. Introducing Google Spreadsheets

Google Spreadsheets is a web-based spreadsheet that mimics some of the key features of freestanding spreadsheet programs, such as Microsoft Excel. Using a familiar row-and-column format, Google Spreadsheets allows you to manipulate numeric data in a variety of ways. Instead of using ledger paper, calculator, and pencil, you can now use Google Spreadsheets to do both simple and complex number-crunching activitiesfrom any computer connected to the Internet.

Google Spreadsheets was born in Google Labs (, which is the incubator for many of Google's most innovative applications. Google, of course, is the Internet's most popular search site, and also host to a variety of search-based and non-search applicationsincluding Google Maps, Gmail, Picasa, Blogger, and the like.

You access Google Spreadsheets (shown in Figure 1) at

Figure 1. Access Google Spreadsheets at


Learn more about Google and all its services and applications in my companion book, Googlepedia (Michael Miller, Que Publishing, 2006).


Google Spreadsheets is currently an experimental product in beta test. This means that Google may (or may not) add or change functionality as the test proceeds.

What's Unique About Google Spreadsheets?

At first blush, Google Spreadsheets looks pretty much like every other spreadsheet you've ever seen. You can enter numbers, words, formulas, functionsyou name itinto any cell, and then format each cell as you like. And, as with Excel, you can have multiple sheets in each spreadsheet.

What's unique about Google Spreadsheets is that it's all web-based. The application and all your spreadsheets reside on Google's server, not on your computer. One nice thing about this is that your spreadsheets can be accessed wherever you are, from any PC; you'll never discover that the spreadsheet you need is located on your office PC when you're at home or away. The other nice thing is that, by being web-based, you can share your spreadsheets with others. That makes workgroup collaboration possible, which is something you don't have with Excel and other spreadsheet programs.

Another benefit of being web-based is that you can't lose your worktheoretically, anyway. Once you've named the spreadsheet you're working on, Google Spreadsheets saves your file on its servers. From that point on, every change you make to the spreadsheet gets saved to the Google servers automatically. Nothing gets lost if you close your web browser, navigate to another website, or even turn off your computer. Everything you do is saved by Google.


Given the way in which websites and web browsers work (or sometimes don't), it's always possible that your latest changes might not make it to Google's servers; server overload or a slow connection can sometimes cause your changes to take more time than expected to get stored on the server. Bottom line, even though Google goes to great lengths to avoid data loss, there's always some slight chance of losing your latest data when the Internet is involved.

The other thing that's unique about Google Spreadsheets is that it's free. That's free, as in it costs zero dollars, unlike the increasingly more expensive Microsoft Excel. Being free makes it easy to take for a test drive, and even easier to add to your bag of applications. Many early users who've tried Google Spreadsheets have said that they're likely to switch from Excel; it can do almost everything Excel can do, from a numbers standpoint (there aren't any charts and graphs as yet), and it's perfect for corporate and small business environments.


Google Spreadsheets looks to be the first component of a full-featured Google office suite. Next up? Google recently purchased Writely, a web-based word processor; look for it to join Google Spreadsheets online in the near future.