I love spreadsheets. When I taught myself 1-2-3 years and years ago back in college, I had no idea how important they’d be to me. I used them all the time as a newspaper reporter, once even penning an article for the IRE Journal explaining how any reporter could tap into spreadsheets as an easy low-tech way to do computer-assisted reporting.
I also love Microsoft Excel. Unlike Word, it never became bloatware. Unlike Access, it was accessible to me. It won me over from 1-2-3, and I’ve never looked back.
Google Spreadsheets, as I wrote on the SEW Blog, was unlikely to win me away from Excel. But I liked the idea of easier sharing. I use Excel a lot to work with Karen DeWeese from Incisive when we plan and organize speakers for our Search Engine Strategies shows in the US. I find it an essential tool, but Karen and I still work independently in our own spreadsheets.
I tried Google Spreadsheets today to see if it would work as a collaborative solution. After getting things organized in Excel, I imported my sheet into Google. In a few minutes, I knew things wouldn’t work.
For one, sorting is rudimentary. In Excel, I can sort on three different criteria — and I often use all of them. Also, when I sort, I usually highlight entire rows of material to sort. Then Excel has a nice menu asking me which columns to sort by, for just the rows I’ve selected.
With Google Spreadsheets, if I highlight rows, it doesn’t give me an option to pick which column to sort by. Instead, it tries to sort the ENTIRE spreadsheet keyed off of what appears to be the first column.
As it turns out, from what I read in the help files, you can’t sort just part of a spreadsheet. Instead, it always wants to sort the entire thing. Argh, strike one.
I also do a lot of moving by selecting rows and dragging them around. So far, I find no way to select-shift-drag a row as I would in Excel. In fact, drag-and-drop seems not supported at all. Strike two. And really strike three, for me.
There is a freeze window feature, which I thought initially was missing. It’s there, but oddly you have to go to the Sort menu to access it. In other words, say you want to freeze the top row so that it always stays visible as you scroll. That option is offered, but you have to go to the Sort menu to find it. It ought to be available anywhere. Good news — once you freeze in sort, the rows stay frozen. Bad news — unlike Excel, you can’t freeze both rows and columns or split a window and freeze the split.
OK, I use Jotspot for team collaboration on Search Engine Watch, with our various correspondents. Turns out, Jotspot has a spreadsheet offering, not that you’d ever know as a Jotspot user. It’s called Jotspot Tracker. Sorting — cool, you can sort by three criteria! But the downside, it wants to sort the entire spreadsheet. Moving on…
Numsum? I found it very sluggish to load, and it looks like there’s only the ability to sort on one criteria, for the entire spreadsheet.
FlySuite? Impressive. It launches as a true mini-app, in its own window, leaving plenty of space to see the actual spreadsheet. It’s fast. I can easily select rows, then choose to sort just parts I’ve selected. Downside? I can only sort on one criteria, plus it doesn’t look like I can drag-and-drop rows to move them. Other downside? To save and collaborate, you have to open up a paid account. Sure, that’s got a 30 day guarantee on it. But I’d like to play with it more before dragging out the old credit card.
gOffice? If there’s sorting, I don’t see it.
ZohoSheet? Felt very Excel-like, and I love how much you can see of the spreadsheet. But sorting doesn’t appear to be an option, nor can you drag-and-drop.
And finally, how about Microsoft Office Live? I’ve looked and looked, and there doesn’t appear to be a spreadsheet offered in any of the packages. In fact, Office Live seems to have little to do with Microsoft Office, in terms of shared applications. But hey, you get your own domain name. Office Live also doesn’t do Firefox, which is typical and sucks. At least it supports IE7.
Overall, I’m tempted to use FlySuite. I might sign-up to see how the collaboration goes. It would be very hard not to have the easy drag-and-drop or select-and-move that I’m used to with Excel. But this certainly seems the best of the lot for the particular type of work I want to do. For other needs, some of the other options probably would work. But none of them will out excel Excel, if you don’t need collaboration.