Continuing in Working On-Line Series - see previous post on word processors

Spreadsheet is after editing text probably second most important business application. Let's explore what is out there for those of us, who do not want to install Microsoft Office or commit yourself to one particular platform. Most of the spreadsheet try to copy or emulate subset of the features of "de-facto" spreadsheet standard Microsoft Excel

Good starting points for search is (obviously) Google search for "on-line spreadsheet" and Wikipedia. The offer of Web based spreadsheet programs is surprisingly large. They differ in capabilities, but typically allow import and export of Excel spreadsheets and CSV files, entering formulas (with subset of Excel functions), text formating, some form of graph creation and most importantly - colaboration and shared viewing/editing of the spreadsheet. I tried accomplish two task with some of them: import my timesheet from XLS and edit it online and do shared editing of a spreadsheet. Here is quick summary of the features and personal experience working with them.

EditGrid offers very strong features, including:

  • Collaboration with real-time update (RTU)- see changes immediately when someone modifies your spreadsheet.
  • Full keyboard navigation.
  • 500+ functions
  • Automatic versioning
  • Import and export in all common formats (MS Excel, CSV, HTML, Gnumeric, Lotus, OpenOffice, …).
  • Permalinks for addressing your spreadsheets in different formats very easily.
  • Comprehensive access control. Share to user, share with password, share to everyone, you control!
  • Cross-browser. Fully supports IE 6.0+ and all Gecko-based Browsers (Mozilla, Firefox, …).

Personal experience with EditGrid: nice, polished but fairly heavy. I have got few times "script taking too long to finish" warning from Firefox, something that did not happen with most others.

iRow is another very powerful spreadsheet with excellent 2D/3D graph capabilities. The look and feel is very Excel-like, including the color theme of the spreadsheets. Among other features, worth mentioning are:

  • Dynamic web functions: stockprice, convert
  • Upload and save Excel,CSV and OpenOffice files
  • Reference cells in other spreadsheets
  • Draw bar/line/pie 2D/3D charts sample
  • Allow multiple people to view or edit the same spreadsheet
  • Automatically saves previous revisions
  • Display a spreadsheet on any web page
  • Generate HTML from spreadsheets
  • Cell merge and un-merge
  • Scroll-lock, hide rows or columns

See also developer's blog and this review.

With iRow, unlike with others, I could not import my test spreadsheet - the formulas based on date calculation (date+1 as next date) which worked OK in Google, EditGrid and ZohoSheet - were marked as errors. There may be other way how to achieve same functionality, but this lack of compatibility with "standard" makes iRow less practical.

ZohoSheet (from makers of Zoho Virtual Office). Virtual Office is web based collaboration suite which contains applications like E-mail Client, Virtual storage for Documents, Personal and Group Calendar, Task Scheduler, Contacts Manager, Instant Messaging, Discussions board, etc. Zoho Virtual Office allows users to create multiple groups, and use all of these components within group. Independent applications ZohoWriter, ZohoSheet, ZohoShow (presenter), ZohoPlanner (task manager), ZohoChallenge (conducts on-line tests) and ZohoCreator (web page creation tool) are independent applications that complement the suite and make it full-fledge, platform and location independent office. Zoho makes also CRM which is of course not free application.

It looked very polished, I liked the long text overlap by default to next fields (same as excel) but I have received several time warning from Firefox that the script is taking too long - this never happened with the other's (except EditGrid).

There are many more, which I did not try out, for example Numbler or spreadsheet with yummy title NumSum - (is it just me or do you also feel like chinese buffet ?). Thinkfree office is more than just online spreadsheet: it contains bundles together tools that allow to create documents and presentations and 1 GB of free online storage. See the tour of the features.

Secure Spreadsheet is targeting mostly business users. Its strenghts is multi-user environment and managing access rights of large user community. Unlike others, it is not free service and the plans start from ~ $10/usermonth.

Last but not least - Google Spreadsheet

Another gift from Google is an on-line application, launched some time ago. This is the one that I actually actively use. It has maybe not as huge palette of functions or as polished interface, but it works very well. Concurrent editing works perfectly - we use it with Gabo to avoid emailing XLS documents.

The main dvantage of the Google spreadsheet is - well - Google. Despite the less features than other, relatively spartanian UI, missing Safari support (<sniff/>) - the Web powerhouse behind it makes long term availability of Google spreadsheet best bet from all the services above.

The google spreadsheet is not perfect. For example, it does weird formatting of the Weekday(Arg) results. I did not find how to show the Mon, Tue etc as in Excel. It shows instead numbers - 001, 002 to 006 and for some weird reason, 031 for Sunday. Despite of these problems, I will likely stick with Google Spreadsheet. It is very convenient to have single login to access Gmail, Google Calendar which I use a lot as well as spreadsheet. Also the concept of "per-sheet" sharing suits good my needs. It is very likely that the application will evolve and enhance .
This is enough for this part. If you want more details, either see this feature comparison or try for yourself.

Note: This blog entry was written in Bridgehead Coffee on Richmod Road. Recommend. Nice place with comfortable seating, good coffee and organic cream / organic milk. And unlike Starbucks, Bridgehead really provides free wireless access. Nothing against Starbucks - I quite like the place and spend there a lot of time - but asking $7.50 for an hour of wireless access on top of $3.70 tazo chai is a shameless rip-off. Not mentioning that Bridghead looks like a company with strong ethical values and unlike Starbucks - they are Canadian company.