Google Sheets for Microsoft Excel users: 5 key differences

By Christopher Guth | Change Management and Training Specialist

If you’re accustomed to Microsoft Excel, learning to use Google Sheets is easy. The app interfaces and toolbars are similar, and they share the same core functionalities, such as autofill capabilities, built-in formulas for common calculations like SUM and AVERAGE, sorting and filter views, and advanced functions like macro recording.

Still, there are some differences, and it’s important to recognize them so that you can get the most out of Google Sheets.

1. Google Sheets is entirely cloud-based

Excel is part of Microsoft 365, which evolved from Microsoft Office, which was originally designed as a desktop app. Microsoft 365 apps, including Excel, are installed on the user’s desktop, tablet, or mobile device. Users can also access Excel through a web browser via Microsoft’s Office for the Web, but it’s a pared-down version lacking certain functionalities, such as offline viewing and authoring.1

Google Sheets is part of Google Workspace, a fully cloud-native, browser-centric productivity suite. Sheets can be accessed using any modern web browser, and the functionality is the same regardless of browser, with the exception of offline storage, which is only supported on Google Chrome.

2. Google Sheets automatically saves all files to Google Drive

Microsoft Excel files may be saved in a OneDrive account (business or personal), on Sharepoint, or locally, on the user’s device. Autosave is available, but users have to first make sure they’re logged into their OneDrive or Sharepoint account, then turn autosave on.

Autosave in Sheets is automatic; you’ll never have to worry about turning it on or hitting the Save button again. All Sheets files are automatically stored in Google Drive. Drive’s interface is far superior to Microsoft’s offerings, with a better search feature to locate files and shared folders, and the option to set up a team (shared) drive.2

3. Google Sheets makes collaboration simple

Excel, like the rest of Microsoft 365, offers collaboration through a feature called “co-authoring,” but it’s a tedious, convoluted process that’s beyond the scope of this article. In short, users’ ability to edit and collaborate in real-time depends on a number of factors, including which device each person is using, whether all users are part of the same organization, and where the spreadsheet being worked on is stored.

In contrast, collaborating with other users on a Sheets spreadsheet is simple. Just click the blue “Share” button in the top-right hand corner, and you’re presented with two choices:

  1. Enter the other users’ email addresses under “Share with people and groups,” and Google will send them invitations to access the spreadsheet.
  2. Choose “Get link” to receive a link that you can send to other users manually. 

In each case, you have the option to allow view-only access, comment-only access, or full editing privileges. You can give different privileges to different users. For example, you may want to give one person full editing privileges and restrict everyone else to commenting.

When two or more users are editing concurrently, changes and comments show up immediately and in real-time, regardless of which device or browser each user is using. A single user can even have the same spreadsheet open on multiple devices simultaneously, without causing any issues.

4. Easily view and revert back to previous versions of Sheets spreadsheets

Need to view the edit history on your spreadsheet or revert back to a previous version? 

Sheets users can simply access File > Version history. You’ll see a holistic view of all edits, and you can restore previous document versions with a single click. Versioning is automatic and functions the same on every device and in every environment.

In Microsoft, document versioning works differently depending on which version of Excel you’re using, how your organization’s administrator has configured versioning, and whether you’re using Sharepoint.3

In addition, the “Show edit history” feature in Sheets helps you easily see the edit history of a cell, including who made the last edit, when that edit was made, and the cell’s previous value.

5. Google Sheets seamlessly integrates with AppSheet

Google Sheets is seamlessly integrated with AppSheet, Google Cloud’s no-code application development platform. Even if you can’t write a single line of code, you can use AppSheet to build powerful mobile and desktop applications to automate tasks such as sending notifications, generating emails, creating custom reports and modifying data. Use pre-made templates to add maps, calendars, dashboards, and other advanced features to your apps. You can get started with AppSheet directly from Google Sheets simply by selecting Tools > AppSheet.

Excel users can also use AppSheet, but the process is more involved; users have to download a plug-in from the Office Add-On Store, whereas Sheets users have access to AppSheet automatically. Additionally, Microsoft users face some limitations regarding the types of Excel files supported, as well as limitations on where files can be accessed within SharePoint.4 Because Sheets natively integrates with AppSheet, Google Cloud users don’t have these limitations.

In addition to AppSheet, Google Sheets integrates with all other Google apps, including Gmail, Meet, Chat, and Calendar, as well as specialized tools like Google Translate and Google Finance. Using simple commands like GOOGLETRANSLATE() and GOOGLEFINANCE(), Sheets users can pull external data into their Sheets spreadsheets.

Use Sheets and Excel together

Still need to work on Excel files created by other co-workers, clients, or partners? Use the Office editing feature in Sheets to access, edit, and even collaborate on Excel files right from Google Sheets, without having to convert the Excel files. You can even open and edit Office files directly from a Gmail attachment, without having to save the document in Drive.

Go further With SADA

If you’re looking to simplify organizational change and maximize ROI, we offer results-driven change management services to help you harness the full power of Google Workspace. Our experts have helped leading organizations like Colgate-Palmolive embrace change for maximum impact. In addition, we offer a variety of helpful resources to guide you in your cloud transformation journey including #CloudQuarters, a go-to hub to empower our collective community to boldly embrace the cultural shift to remote and hybrid work. Be sure to check out our new video series, 27°, which offers an opinion, or a unique angle, on a particular topic in the realm of Google Workspace.

1 https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/servicedescriptions/office-online-service-description/office-online-service-description
2 https://www.wpbeginner.com/opinion/g-suite-vs-office-365-comparison-which-one-is-better/
3 https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/topic/view-previous-versions-of-office-files-5c1e076f-a9c9-41b8-8ace-f77b9642e2c2
4 https://help.appsheet.com/en/articles/962103-using-data-from-excel-spreadsheets-in-office-365-and-sharepoint

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