Comparing Web-Based Spreadsheets
Several web-based spreadsheet applications are worthy competitors to Microsoft Excel. Chief among these is Google Spreadsheets, which we'll discuss first, but many other apps also warrant your attention. If you're at all interested in moving your number-crunching and financial analysis into the cloud, these web-based applications are worth checking out.
The latest version of Google Spreadsheets contains much of the functionality that was lacking in the original release. For example, Google Spreadsheets now contains a raft of formulas and functions, almost as many as available with Excel. It also lets you create multiple pages within a single spreadsheet file and build charts from your spreadsheet data.
Equally important, many developers have created specialized gadgets that can be inserted into any Google spreadsheet. For example, the Gantt Chart gadget lets you graph numbers as a basic Gantt chart. Other gadgets let you build pivot tables, generate maps from data, and create various types of charts.
In all, Google Spreadsheets is one of the most full-featured web-based spreadsheet applications available, matching Excel almost feature for feature. It's an ideal choice for both beginning and advanced spreadsheet users.
If you're familiar with older versions of Microsoft Excel, you'll feel quite at home with EditGrid. In fact, the EditGrid interface is a near-replica of pre-2007 Excel, down to the tabbed sheets, pull-down menus, and toolbars. You even get 50+ keyboard shortcuts, identical to those in Excel. The result is a powerful spreadsheet with a familiar interface—and, like Google Spreadsheets, it's completely free for individual users.
The eXpresso online spreadsheet offers basic spreadsheet features paired with advanced collaboration tools. The spreadsheet itself isn't much to write home about—there are no functions, charts, or advanced formatting options. The collaboration features, however, include notes, email communication, online chat, and sophisticated sharing capabilities. This application is perhaps best used to import existing Excel spreadsheets and then share them using eXpresso's collaboration tools.
Like the Glide Write word processor, Glide Crunch is part of the Glide Business suite of web-based applications. The Glide Crunch interface looks a little like the Microsoft Excel 2007 interface, using ribbon-like groups of option buttons at the top of the screen. Crunch offers a bevy of Excel-like functions and a pivot table feature, but (as of November 2008) it doesn't let you create graphs and charts—although this feature is sure to be implemented in later versions.
Num Sum is a basic web-based spreadsheet application. Nothing fancy here, just a typical spreadsheet workspace with editing and formatting buttons in toolbars above. Even though Num Sum lets you share and collaborate on your spreadsheets, the program includes no built-in functions and only three rudimentary chart types (line, bar, area), which makes it less than ideal for advanced spreadsheet users.
Peepel WebSheet is the spreadsheet component of the Peepel Online Office suite. While WebSheet offers a nice selection of functions and formatting options, it doesn't have a chart feature, so you can't display your data visually. It does let you share and collaborate on spreadsheets, but it's not the most full-featured spreadsheet application available.
ThinkFree Calc, like its ThinkFree Write sibling, is a Java-based online application. That lets ThinkFree offer a near-replica of the pre-2007 Excel interface. And, unlike some other web-based spreadsheet applications, ThinkFree Calc is a full-featured spreadsheet program. You get lots of functions (more than 300), full formatting features, and a wide array of charts and graphs. It's just like using Excel, except on the Web.
Zoho Sheet looks and feels a lot like Google Spreadsheets. You get an Excel-like toolbar-based interface, multiple sheets in each file, a full load of functions, lots of different types of graphs, and all the formatting options you need in order to create great-looking printouts. In short, even though Zoho Sheets comes last in the order of all these cloud spreadsheets, it's among the first in terms of features and functionality.
The Winner: Google Spreadsheets
Google's first web-based application is also its best, delivering just about everything a spreadsheet user could want. Especially appealing is the added functionality that comes from the variety of third-party gadgets available. Put it all together, and this cloud application is a viable alternative for even the most die-hard Microsoft Excel users.