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Now, Homestead has as a fairly complex AJAX application for page editing called SiteBuilder Lite. I know it well and I know that while AJAX is really easy, really good AJAX is difficult.  And at that level, I appreciate what Google has done with Google Spreadsheets.  It’s a good feat of engineering.

I’m also a very experienced Excel user. I’m no great fan of MS, but I recognize that Excel is one awesome piece of software. In my humble opinion, it’s the best thing they have and is really indispensible in pretty much everything that I do, and everything that businesses (small and large) do.  So after watching the videos on Google Blogoscoped (I have to admit I haven’t played with Google Spreadsheets myself, as I didn’t get an invitation), it’s really obvious that MS has nothing to worry about.

Why?

  • Philipp Lenssen has a miserable time dealing with sorting data (can’t deal with header rows) and inserting data. (Starting at 1:28 in the first video)
  • While the formula list is extensive, the interface for dealing with them is really weak (especially it’s issues with reselecting cells for use in a formula). (5:22 in the first video)
  • No graphing capabilities.
  • Because I’ve only seen the video, I don’t know what the keyboard shortcuts are, but in Excel, keyboard interface is very important.
  • From the video, I can’t tell if formulas are translated relatively when copied.  I assume so, because if not, it is completely unusable.
  • Automatic column resizing (double click on a column border to resize the column to its minimal width).

And those are, to me, the most blatant things missing that almost all Excel users will miss. I won’t even go into the stuff that I use everyday that are missing (pivot tables, filters, cross-tab & cross-document references, borders, mapping cells to DB queries, etc).

To be fair, the collaboration is cool and could be useful in some situations, but I think it’s inadequate for most business applications.

TechCrunch lists a bunch of other AJAX spreadsheets and I still have to check them out. It’s been a while since I’ve played with them. Michael Arrington missed Tracker from Jotspot, so check that out, too.

Of course, this is just the first release and Google could make it better. But will they do that?  Or will this be one of those projects that sits on the Google Labs forever? I don’t know if Google cares enough about this to really take on Excel, but we’ll just have to see.

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