Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are currently the two giants in the spreadsheet space.
While there are some smaller players as well (such as Airtable, Libre Office, or Open office), I’m sure we can agree that nothing comes close to Excel or Google Sheets when we talk about spreadsheets.
I have been a data analyst for the past 12 years and have worked extensively with Microsoft Excel well as Google Sheets on a daily basis.
I use both of these tools every day and have closely followed how they have evolved in the past few years.
So it’s safe to assume that I know my shit (sorry, sheet!)
In this article, I will compare Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel on various parameters and list down the similarities and differences.
Let’s start with the mega dual!
Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets – Which One Should You Use?
Before I get into a detailed comparison based on features and functionalities in Google Sheets and Excel, let me first answer this basic question.
I know how unhelpful this response is, so let me elaborate.
The tool you choose will depend on your specific use case and requirements.
If you’re looking for a spreadsheet tool that can give you some basic functionalities, go with Google Sheets. This is usually the case with students, freelancers, start-up employees, etc.
Google Sheets is free and easy to get started with!
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more robust tool that can handle a lot more data and can do a lot of analysis on that data, you will be better off using Microsoft Excel.
While Excel is not free and has a monthly/yearly cost attached to it, it does offer a lot more functionality than Google Sheets.
It also has some advanced tools (such as Power Query, Power Pivot, and Power BI) that can be really useful when you’re analyzing large amounts of data.
So if you are a data analyst, financial analyst, data administrator, in charge of reporting and dashboards, or anyone who works with multiple different data sources and large datasets, you are better off using Microsoft Excel (as you will find Google Sheets slow and limiting).
Now let’s get into a head-to-head comparison and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of the two spreadsheet tools.
Below I have a table that compares Excel and Google Sheets on different parameters.
A green tick indicates that the tool is better in this area. In case there is a green tick for both the tools, it means they both are equally good in that area.
|MS Excel||Google Sheets|
|Cost of the tool||✅|
|Handling Large Datasets & Data Analysis||✅|
|Ease of Collaboration||✅|
|Add-ins / Add-ons||✅||✅|
|Ease of Releasing Updates||✅|
Cost of Using the Tool (Free vs Paid)
Google Sheets is Free, and Excel is Worth the Money.
The very first thing anyone would consider when choosing a spreadsheet tool would be the cost of the tool.
And this is where Google sheet wins hands down.
Google Sheets is free.
And I don’t mean ‘freemium’ where you get something for free and then you have to pay for the other functions and functionalities – IT’S ALL FREE
So, if you don’t have any budget to spend on a spreadsheet tool, you don’t even need to compare Excel and Google Sheets, don’t overthink and enter the amazing world of Google Sheets.
All you need is a Google account so that you can access Google Drive and create as many Google Sheets as you want.
On the other hand, if you need a more powerful tool that can handle a lot more data and can do a lot more analysis, and you have the budget, you would be better off going for Microsoft Excel.
When it comes to the cost of Microsoft Excel, you can either buy only Excel (without any other Microsoft office apps), or you can buy a Microsoft Office 365 subscription, where you pay on a monthly/yearly basis and get access to Excel as well as other apps such as Microsoft Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Onedrive, etc.
If you are a student, Microsoft does have discounted pricing that makes it a little more affordable.
Pro Tip: If you are a student and would be graduating soon, know that Microsoft Excel is a highly valuable skill in the corporate job market. When it comes to medium and large companies, it’s very likely that Microsoft Excel would be their choice of a spreadsheet tool. So if you’re looking for jobs and can afford to get a Microsoft 365 subscription, I would recommend you get Excel and hone your skills using some free online training available on Microsoft Excel.
If you can’t afford Microsoft Excel now, go ahead and start using Google Sheets.
Google Sheets has been modeled using Excel as the inspiration, so it won’t be difficult for you to switch from Google Sheets to Excel when you get access to it.
Winner: Google Sheets is free, so a better option to start with
Which One Has More/Better Functions?
Both Excel and Google Sheets have similar functions.
And both the tools are working tirelessly on adding new ones and improving the old ones.
Till a few years ago, Google Sheets had a clear advantage over Excel when it came to functions. And then, as Excel and Microsoft 365 went to the cloud way, they also started working on adding new functions.
Some of the new functions that you will find in Microsoft Excel (but not in Google Sheets) include LAMBDA, LET, etc.
Update: I recently read that Google Sheets has added the XLOOKUP function (just like Excel), and Excel has added the IMAGE function (just like Google Sheets)
Excel is working more on functions that can help you improve the data analysis work in Excel.
Google Sheets, on the other hand, cannot handle a lot of data so they are better when it comes to functions that can use the web – such as the QUERY function or the TRANSLATE function.
In a nutshell, unless you do not need any specific function that is only available in Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets has enough functions that will cater to 99% of the spreadsheet users.
Winner: No clear winner here. Both Excel and Google Sheets have similar functions
Also read: How to Translate in Excel? (Text/Formulas)
Which One Has More/Better Functionalities?
Excel wins here by a mile.
Since Excel is a desktop-based tool, it can afford to use more processing power and provide you with more functionalities.
Google Sheets, on the other hand, is completely web-based, which limits its ability to add new functionalities – especially the ones that aren’t needed by most users.
To give you an example, Excel gives you functionality such as What-if analysis, Scenario Manager, Goal Seek, Excel tables, which are not there in Google Sheets.
Even with the functionalities that are available in both tools (such as charting or Pivot Tables), Excel often ends up giving you more options and customizations that can be done.
For example, if you look at Conditional Formatting, you will get a lot more that can be done in Excel compared to Google Sheets.
When you buy a subscription for Microsoft 365 (or standalone Excel), you get access to the file that you can download and install the app on your computer. This also means that you can use Microsoft Excel even when you do not have access to the Internet. Google Sheets, on the other hand, is a web-based application and works best when you have access to the Internet.
Winner: Excel has more functionalities
Handling Large Datasets & Data Analysis
If you work with large datasets (thousands or hundreds of thousands of rows of data), Google Sheets is not an option.
While this may become a possibility in the future, as of now Google Sheets is not made to handle large datasets.
For optimum performance, it’s best to not use Google Sheets as soon as your data exceeds a few hundred rows.
While you can stretch it a bit and keep a few thousand records in it, the more data you have, the slower your Google Sheets would become.
While the Excel application does better when it comes to keeping and analyzing large amounts of data, even your Excel would get slow and sluggish as you get into multiple thousands of records/rows.
But then there are two things that give Excel an edge over Google Sheets when handling large datasets:
- Excel app can be downloaded on your desktop that allows Excel to use the processing power of your system while analyzing the data. This makes it faster than Google Sheets, which is a web-based app.
- New tools such as Power Query (aka ‘Get and Transform’) allows users to connect to various common data sources, fetch the data from these sources, transform this data within Power Query, and then load it into Excel. This has greatly enhanced Excel’s ability to handle large datasets. With Power Query, Excel can handle millions or rows of data
Note that many of the functionalities available in the desktop version of Excel are not available in Excel on the Web (which is the online web-based version of Excel)
Winner: Excel is better at handling large data and data analysis
Ease of Collaboration with Other Users
Apart from the cost, the ease of collaboration in Google Sheets is what has led to tremendous growth in the adoption of this tool.
Despite Microsoft’s recent attempts in making real-time collaboration easier in Excel, it still has a long way to go.
With Google Sheets, you can easily create a shareable link and send it to other people.
You can also control what level of access the other person would have on the file – for example, you can change the settings to only allow viewing the file without making any modifications, or you can also allow the user to edit the file.
You can also add specific people to the file (using their Google account email), so that you can collaborate with them on the same file.
This makes collaboration quite easy when you’re working the different people in different places. While there is one single file, different people have access to the file and can read or edit the file based on their settings for them.
Google Sheets also allow you to give access to specific cells and columns while keeping everything else locked for a given user.
For example, if I’m working with four salespeople, I can create 4 separate columns for each salesperson’s name and then give access to them to only edit that specific column (without accidentally changing or deleting the data for someone else)
Collaboration between different users using Microsoft Excel is not so frictionless. To begin with, these Excel files need to be stored in a OneDrive folder or on SharePoint, which is not as popular as Google Drive (where Google Sheets files are stored).
While the real-time collaboration features in Excel are a welcome step, as of now, it is still being used by mid and large enterprises that have the Microsoft suite of products including OneDrive and SharePoint.
Winner: Google Sheets is easier when it comes to collaboration with other users
Ask any spreadsheet expert, and they will tell you how much time they save by using keyboard shortcuts (or a combination of keyboard and mouse shortcuts).
Excel is way ahead of Google Sheets when we talk about keyboard shortcuts.
Since Excel is a stand-alone desktop application, it has hundreds of keyboard shortcuts that can be used without any interference from any other application.
On the contrary, you need to access Google Sheets using a browser such as Chrome or Edge, or Brave/Firefox. In most cases, these browsers have their own keyboard shortcuts.
So, when you have Google Sheets open in any of these browsers, the keyboard shortcut of the browser takes precedence over the keyboard shortcut in Google Sheets.
To give you an example, if you have an Excel workbook that has multiple worksheets in it, you can use the keyboard shortcut Control + PageUp/PageDown to cycle through the worksheets in the Excel workbook application.
But when you have a Google Sheets file opened in the Chrome browser, this keyboard shortcut would cycle through different tabs in the browser (and not different sheets in the Google Sheets workbook).
This is a big limitation in Google Sheets, and it’s unlikely that they can overcome it.
While Google sheet still has some useful keyboard shortcuts, it’s nowhere close to what Excel offers you.
Winner: Excel has a lot more keyboard shortcuts that make it easier to use
Excel and Google Sheets both offer automation using programming languages – VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) in Excel and Scripts in Google Sheets.
When it comes to automation, Microsoft Excel offers more options and an easier way to automate repetitive tasks.
Excel also has an inbuilt macro recorder that automatically generates the code for you by following the steps that you take in the workbook.
This enables even beginner-level users to quickly automate some of the tasks in Excel – which can be a huge time saver for many.
Excel also allows you to quickly share your VBA codes with other people by creating add-ins that can easily be installed by anyone.
All in all, when it comes to automation Excel is way better than Google Sheets as of now.
But there is more to it.
VBA is a Microsoft-specific programming language that allows users to create codes that can talk to different Microsoft applications.
For example, you can use a VBA to open a specific Excel file, copy some data from that file, then open a PowerPoint presentation, and then paste this data into the PowerPoint presentation.
As long as you are working with Microsoft applications, VBA is a robust and reliable way to automate tasks.
But VBA is not so great at interacting with other applications – such as different browsers or databases.
In a nutshell, while Excel has an easier programming language for automation, Google Sheets has a more robust one that can be used with more applications and browsers.
Lately, Excel on the web has also started experimenting with scripts as one of the automation languages, and it is a possibility that Excel may completely phase out VBA and adopt it as the primary automation language.
A lot of people use tools such as ‘Zapier’ or ‘Integrately’ to automate tasks using Google Sheets or Excel. Both of these applications are well supported by such tools.
Winner: While both Excel and Google Sheets have automation options, Excel is currently better at automation
Both Excel and Google Sheets offer a decent number of charting options (with Google Sheets offering a little extra such as the Step chart or Gauge chart).
Excel does a better job of allowing the user to customize the chart. The experience of working with charts in Excel is a lot smoother than what you get in Google Sheets.
Lately, MS Excel has been working on adding new chart types that have made it even better.
In my experience, the target audience of Google Sheets (such as students, freelancers, teachers, and startup owners) doesn’t need advanced charting functionalities.
On the other hand, advanced Excel users often have a need to create charts for their reports and dashboards that need to be customized a lot.
If you are someone who needs to work with charts, you would be better off opting for Excel.
Winner: While both Excel and Google Sheets have many types of charts, Excel allows a lot more customization options.
Interactive Controls (Drop Down, Checkbox, Sliders, Radio Buttons)
Interactive controls (such as dropdown lists, radio buttons, check boxes, and scrollbars) are quite useful when you’re creating reports in dashboards.
It allows the user to make selections and based on those selections the reports and dashboards can automatically update.
Excel has a lot more interactive controls than Google Sheets.
Some of the interactive controls that you will only find in Excel are:
- Scroll bar
- Spin button
- Option Button (Radio Button)
- Dynamic Text Field
The following interactive controls are available in Excel as well as Google Sheets:
I have a feeling that interactive controls are not one of Google Sheets’s priorities.
Since the target user base our people who don’t use Google Sheets for a lot of dashboards and reporting, I don’t expect a lot of addition and improvement in the existing interactive controls at Google Sheets already has.
While Excel has a big edge over Google Sheets when it comes to interactive controls, I’m a huge fan of how Google Sheets has used checkboxes. While in Excel, a checkbox is a separate object that sits over the worksheet, in Google Sheets, you can insert a checkbox in the cell. I really hope Excel copies this way of handling checkboxes from Google Sheets
Winner: Excel has more and better interactive control options
Add-ins / Add-ons
Add-ins in Excel or Add-ons in Google Sheets allow you to increase the functionality of the spreadsheet tool.
These add-ins/add-ons are usually created by a third party that can be installed in your spreadsheet tool. Once installed, you’re able to use the additional functionality that the specific add-in brings.
For example, if you want to send e-mail directly from your Google Sheets, you can install an add-on that will allow you to do this easily. You don’t need to know any scripting language or use any macro to do this. just install the third-party add-on and start using the new functionalities.
Similarly, there are hundreds of useful free and paid third-party add-ins available for Excel. all you need to do is install the add-in and start using it.
While Google Sheets has an upper hand when it comes to free add-ons, Excel has some really good paid ones.
What I also like about Microsoft Excel is that you can also write some VBA macro codes and create an add-in using it.
Once created, you can easily share this add-in with other people in your organization, and once they have installed it they would also get the same functionalities that you have.
Winner: Both Excel and Google Sheets have a lot of available third-party add-ins/add-ons
Ease of Releasing Updates
One major benefit of having a web-based application is that you don’t have to worry about releasing updates.
Once an update is released in Google Sheets, all the users get it instantly. I’m also quite happy with the frequency with which Google Sheets is adding new features every few weeks.
While Excel has been trying to emulate the cloud-based web app model by moving towards Microsoft 365, a lot of people are still using earlier Excel versions where you had to buy the software and install it on your system using a license key.
The problem with such a system is that you cannot release updates for that user. for example, if you have Excel 2013, you won’t be able to upgrade it to Excel 2016 or Excel 2019 Unless you pay for it.
To be honest, this has created a hot mess in the past. With every new Excel version, there would be new functionalities and functions that would not be available in the previous versions, which lead to backward compatibility issues.
For example, the new XLOOKUP function is available in the new versions of Excel, but you won’t find it in the older Excel versions (2013 or 2010).
So if you create a file that uses the XLOOKUP function, and share it with someone who has an older version, they won’t be able to see the formula and it will show an error for them.
With the cloud-based Microsoft 365 subscription model, Excel is now moving toward a version-independent tool where the updates could be released to everyone at the same time.
But as of now, having different versions of Excel is still a huge pain point for users.
I hope this article about the differences between Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets has been useful in helping you make a decision on which spreadsheet tool to choose.
If you’re looking for a lightweight spreadsheet tool and/or don’t want to pay for it, go for Google Sheets. On the other hand, if you already work in an organization that uses Microsoft Excel, or you are an aspirant who plans to get into the corporate world and work with medium or large companies (that most likely already use MS Excel), you’ll be better off getting yourself a Microsoft 365 subscription.
While I’ve tried my best to give you a detailed comparison between Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel (detailing the similarities and the differences), there are still a lot of questions people often ask me when deciding on their spreadsheet tool.
Winner: Google Sheets is better when it comes to releasing updates
Microsoft Excel vs Google Sheets – Common User Questions
In this section, I will try to briefly answer some of the commonly asked questions about the similarities and differences between Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets.
Can I get MS Excel for Free?
Legally you can not.
Earlier, piracy was rampant with Microsoft products (including Microsoft Office and Windows). You could easily get your hands on pirated software with the license key that you can install on your system.
Since Microsoft has now moved to a cloud-based system, your license is validated online. So you won’t be able to access Microsoft apps unless you have paid for them.
Is Excel Better than Google Sheets?
Yes, as of now, Excel is better than Google Sheets (in my professional opinion).
Not only is Excel a more robust tool, but it also has significantly more functionalities than Google Sheets.
While Google Sheets still has some obvious advantages over Excel, Excel has made great strides in the past few years in bridging the gap.
While beginner spreadsheet users may not find much difference between the two tools and may gravitate towards Google Sheets because it’s free, advanced users prefer Microsoft Excel.
So to answer this question, Excel is a better spreadsheet tool and I believe it will continue to get better and gain over Google Sheets.
Is it Easy to Switch from Excel to Google Sheets?
Excel is faster, more robust, and has a lot more functionalities than Google Sheets. This makes switching from Excel to Google Sheets or little painful (at least that’s what I think).
Also, the fact that you won’t be able to use most of the keyboard shortcuts that you used to use in Microsoft Excel is a big drawback.
Now I’m not saying that Google Sheets is a bad tool, but if you have already gotten used to the experience that Excel offers, Google Sheets can seem a bit limiting.
Is it Easy to Switch from Google Sheets to Excel?
Yes – people who move from Google Sheets to Microsoft Excel find the experience better.
While most of the things that are used to using in Google Sheets are already available in Excel, you also get a host of new functionalities that can further improve your productivity.
When people, who have never used Excel or Google Sheets, are exposed to Excel for the first time, they often find the experience overwhelming.
But people who move from Google Sheets to Microsoft Excel already have a decent basic knowledge of a spreadsheet tool and are able to adapt to Microsoft Excel with ease.
Why do Medium/Large Companies use Microsoft Excel when Google Sheets is Free?
Bigger companies often invest in getting the entire Microsoft suite of products – which would include all the Microsoft Office apps as well as products such as Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive, Power Automate, etc.
And since these are paid products, it also comes with on-site and online support.
While Google has some competing products, Microsoft’s suite of products still has an edge.
Why do Startups Prefer Google Sheets?
Apart from the fact that startups are operating on a strict budget, they don’t need a lot of complexity in the tools they’re using.
A free Google account gives you access to an e-mail (Gmail), a storage drive (Google Drive), a free spreadsheet tool (Google Sheets), a free PowerPoint alternative (Google Slides), and a free Microsoft Word alternative (Google Docs), etc.
For most early-stage startups, this tech stack is more than enough.
In many cases, when these startups grow, they are already used to using the Google suite of products, and would rather pay for something they’re familiar with rather than move to the Microsoft suite of products, which brings in a little more complexity with it.
I hope you found this article useful and I was able to show you the similarities and differences between Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel.
Whatever spreadsheet tool you choose, just keep on learning and continue to have fun!
Other Excel articles you may also like:
- How to Compare Two Columns in Excel (using VLOOKUP & IF)
- Why does Excel Open on Startup (and How to Stop it)
- How to Merge Two Excel Files?
- How to Set the Default Font in Excel (Windows and Mac)
- How to Start Excel in Safe Mode (3 Easy Ways)
- Excel Not Responding – 10 Ways To Fix It!
- Row vs Column in Excel – What’s the Difference?