I signed up for the test run of Google Spreadsheet in the morning, and I just got my invitation. So I decided to play around with it. I logged in and I was presented with a blank spreadsheet. Cool.
I started typing some numbers, and the ajax interface seemed quite responsive. Unfortunately you can’t just select a sequence of numbers and drag it to have it repeated, or expanded like in MS excel. But, hey – it’s a web app and MS probably has a patent on that little cell handle thing.
Your file is automatically saved as you type kinda like in Gmail. There is a nice save button on the toolbar if you want to make sure your stuff is saved before you log off or something. If you try to navigate away from the edited page, Google will pop up a dialog to warn you. Basic stuff, that was already implemented in Gmail.
If you navigate away, and then reopen Google spreadsheet it will restore the last auto-save from the previous session.
When you want to open a file, all your saved stuff will be displayed in a nice list as shown here:
Strangely enough, the list cannot be ordered, or searched. Yes, you read this correctly. Google Spreadsheet does not have a search feature. Either that, or I simply can’t find one. This is really odd. I bet that they are working on it though. I can’t imagine this thing being released without a search feature.
Next thing I tried were the formulas. They work just like in Excel. As you can see on this next screenshot, quite a few excel functions are supported, including conditionals such as if, or boolean operators like not.
In other words, most spreadsheets can be seamlessly imported into Google, and their formulas will still work.
Errors are handled nicely, with a little Ajax fade, and a polite error message. I got this one when I tried to center text in the cell that I was currently editing. Apparently that cannot be done.
You need to click on another cell, then go back and highlight it to apply formating. Eh… I think it would be nicer to simply gray-out some of these buttons when you are editing a cell, but this works too.
I haven’t had a chance to fully evaluate the mult-user feature because I just don’t know anyone else who got the invitation. I will have to hunt someone else down, or apply with a different email address to check this stuff out. But it seems to be a grand idea to allow several people to collaborate on the spreadsheet. It’s nice to see that they put the Writely technology up to a good use.
I decided it was time to fiddle around with some real data. I couldn’t find any useful spreadsheets on my hard drive, so I downloaded some statistical data about Affirmative Action from some .gov website. I simply typed random string in google, and specified filetype:xls – and this was my first result. So the choice was purely random.
Uploading was a tad slow, and Firefox offered to kill the running script as it was bogging down my performance. I let it run, and few seconds later the spreadsheet loaded. It was a relatively big file, but not as big as some of the files used in accounting firms (that have 30+ sheets). This was just a single sheet workbook with maybe 10 pages of actual data. Here is a screenshot of the loaded file:
The site got a tad slow, and scrolling became jumpy at times. But it was still working ok. I also noticed that Firefox ate almost all of my memory. This may be unrelated, as there are known memory leaks in the browser. It was open since yesterday evening, so it’s possible that it was just slowly chewing up my RAM all night and Google Spreadsheet had nothing to do with it. Or maybe it did. I don’t know…
My main complaint is that some of the formating has vanished (mainly the cell borders), and the § symbol simply failed to render. Why is that? Is it really that hard to support cell borders, and properly render ANSI characters?
Last feature I decided to check before writing this, was the download. I made some minor changes to that big file, saved it and downloaded it back. Then I plugged it into excel for comparison. The top spreadsheet is the original, and the bottom one is the Google edited one.
If you want to compete with Office you MUST be compatible. OO.org is almost there, but it still gets formating wrong sometimes. Google Spreadsheet failed miserably at retaining original files formating. All the borders were gone. To tell you the truth, I was expecting more from them. This was a big letdown.
And it is a big problem! If someone sends you a spreadsheet, and you load it into google for a quick edit you may destroy all the formating. This a huge usability issue, and it needs to be addressed if Google wants people to treat their application seriously.
But, if you want to generate a simple spreadsheet quickly, Google might be a place to go.
Now they just need a catchy name that starts with G. You know, like gmail, and gcal and gmaps… Gspreadsheet just does not roll of the tongue that easily…
Here is the rundown on my highly scientific Monkey Grading System (as usual, start at 3 bananas):
+1 for ZOMG! I'm editing a spreadsheet in a web browser +1 for multi-user collaborative mode! Very cool. +1 for supporting a large subset of MS Office functions +1 for shiny, awesome AJAX interface -1 for failing to display &sec; character -2 for lack of search feature (WTF?) -2 for poor compatibility with MS Office formating (!!!) 2 TOTAL SCORE
I would say that they still have some work ahead of them. The compatibility issues will have to be addressed if they want the chunk of the home desktop market. And a google product without a search feature is just silly.
Update Wed Jun 7 15:51:15 EDT 2006
I managed to play around with the multiuser features today. Big thanks to ara pehlivanian for sharing
her his (sorry!) spreadsheet with me :)
Good part is that you can actually see updates being made by others in real time. Well, not really in real time – but asynchronously thanks to AJAX magic. So there is some delay, but it’s probably as close to real time as you can get with a web interface. And once again, this is the same technology that was used in Gmail chat feature – here it is simply applied to a spreadsheet.
There is also the chat sidebar in which you can talk to other people who work on the same document. Again, nothing new here.
Unfortunately there is no version tracking, or a way to find out who edited which part of the document and when. This is very strange because Writley had this functionality. Why is it not in Google Spreadsheet?
I’m guessing that they are still working on perfecting that feature, and adapting it to a spreadsheet format. It would really make no sense to have this collaborative mode, without any way of tracking the changes.
But I guess it is what it is – an unfinished product in an early beta stage.