cloud computingGoogle’s online offerings continue to grow and expand. Can Google Sheets replace Excel, or even stand side by side with it yet? Well… Not really. But it’s getting better. A few months ago, Google rolled out significant updates to their series of lite cloud-based office software, including a new “Office Compatibility Mode.” This greatly improves Google’s compatibility with standard Microsoft formats, including the ability to edit them live in collaboration.

If you’ve got a Google Docs app, it’s easy to enable. There’s now an option in the “…” pulldown menu to enable compatibility mode, and then it begins automatically saving the file in MS formats rather than in Google’s own. While it works quite well, overall, with most traditional document types like Word Doc files, the performance for Excel compatibility is still pretty minimal.

What you can’t do in Google Sheets’ office compatibility mode

Features: The list of missing features is far too long to list out, but Excel is the spreadsheet app for a reason. Most complex macros, financial analysis tools, and statistical analysis tools in Sheets are either missing entirely or barely there. Sheets only carries over the most commonly used spreadsheet features. It’s fine for a home or small office, but will fall down quickly for any specialty work.

Formulas: Google can’t read or handle a large number of Excel’s formula types, so all but the simplest of formulas are likely to get lost in translation to Google’s format. Unfortunately, this is also true going both ways. Google has their own formula markup language for Sheets, and it rarely converts into outgoing Excel files either. The two just are not compatible enough at the moment. So what this means is that Google Sheets may be fine for limited usage, but the first time you have a client who must have data provided on their own custom spreadsheet, you’ll have to get Excel to handle it.

So what can Google Sheets do?

Collaboration: Sheets can be edited live by as many users as is necessary. It completely eliminates single-user file lockdown. If this is a feature your office needs, and you’re willing to sacrifice the mountain of possibly extraneous features that Excel offers, the collaboration itself is great. It’s virtually seamless and allows for simple editing by everyone at once.

Excel is still king of the spreadsheets

For high level usage, and compatibility with other businesses, there’s really no doubt. Excel is still king of the hill, and will likely remain there for some time to come. Google Sheets continues to make big strides forward, but Google’s emphasis on ease-of-use means Sheets is likely to remain a lightweight and incompatible alternative.