Excel spreadsheets continue to be popular today. This is perfectly understandable, as they are a great tool for the collection and transformation of small amounts of data. However, if you work with large datasets, complex calculations, and references to external data, you may start encountering several issues.
Unfortunately, since complex analyses are becoming more and more common on high-volume data, and online collaboration has become crucial, you may feel that you have outgrown Excel. In this article, you’ll learn about 6 Excel limitations that continue to affect most users. Fortunately, tools like Layer allow you to continue using your existing Excel spreadsheets while benefitting from advanced collaboration and automation features.
In addition to the technical limitations and specifications published by Microsoft, there are some disadvantages and challenges associated with its use. Unfortunately, most of these challenges are related to aspects that are becoming increasingly important, like collaboration, keeping track of changes or versions of your spreadsheet, and of course, automation.
The technical specifications and limitations of Excel are well-documented, and details are available on Microsoft’s Support pages. Each sheet is limited to 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns, which gives us a total of 17,179,869 184 cells. However, if you actually try this, you’ll see that the worksheet becomes practically impossible to work with. Regarding the number of sheets allowed per workbook, the support page states that it is “Limited by available memory.” In other words, with a normal computer, you’re unlikely to be able to even approach these limits, whatever they may be.
1. Excel Online
If you’re using the online version of Excel, then you will face even more challenges, as it is a limited version of what is offered in the desktop application. Microsoft does a good job documenting the specifications and limitations of its products, so you can easily identify the differences between the two versions. There is a Microsoft Support article that covers those differences quite comprehensively.
However, a quick look will tell you that they are not the same tool. In addition to explanations about how certain features work similarly or in general, there is a specific section on the differences. There are issues related to important features, like controls, data connections, data validation, functions, and workbook protection. Add-ins, which are a common way to expand Excel’s features, are also very limited in the web version.
2. Co-Authoring for Collaboration
Microsoft 365 suite introduced users to Excel’s online version to compensate for previous online collaboration limitations, including the Excel Co-Authoring feature but failed to level up to the functionalities offered by the desktop version.
For example, tracking changes is not possible, so you won’t be able to go back to a specific edit. In terms of the “Comments” function, unless you provide clear instructions on how to use them, they can quickly turn into an instant messaging channel. The number of co-authors is limited to class size or even lower; otherwise, Excel will perform slower and crash constantly.
Broken cell references: Having several users working simultaneously can lead to accidental cell or formula changes. Although you can add filters for sorting and viewing data, it will affect the rest of the users who are working on the spreadsheet.
Microsoft Excel has withstood the test of time, Google Sheets pioneered real-time collaboration. But which one is better for you – Excel or Google Sheets?READ MORE
3. Version Control
Keeping track of versions of your spreadsheet can be quite a nightmare. Even if you’re the only person with access to the spreadsheet, you can face some unexpected issues with versions created due to different issues with your spreadsheet; these include temporary loss of your internet connection, an unexpected crash of your workbook or operating system, loss of power, etc. These situations very often lead to “conflicts” with different versions of your file; ironically, they’re often caused by safety backup features intended to avoid any loss of data.
However, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be the only user with access to the spreadsheet, and the chances of losing track of the versions of your file increase with each user added.
4. Tracking Errors
In addition to the challenge of tracking versions, there is the problem of tracking errors. There is really no way to keep accurate track of this. Error handling in Excel is something that users frequently complain about, as it can take a very long time to even find the cell with the error or the problematic formula, let alone fix it.
It is simply too easy to change things in your spreadsheet - accidentally swipe over a range, and you’ve suddenly moved a group of cells. If you’re lucky, you’ve moved it to cells that already contain data, so at least you’ll get a warning and be asked to confirm this action. Otherwise, you may not notice until you start getting strange results, hopefully not at the very end of the process.
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5. Complex Automation
When it comes to repetitive and time-consuming data tasks, the goal is clearly automation. All businesses have at least some processes that are frequently repeated and could be carried out automatically. While Excel has its Macros, they are quite limited. You can record simple actions, and as long as everything is in the same place and the same format, it will work as expected.
However, unless you make modifications to the macro, it’s not very useful for larger tasks involving logic or complex functions. And that’s the catch: to edit your macro, you need to know VBA and be familiar with the inner workings of Excel. This makes it very complicated for users to accomplish any meaningful automation with Excel without tools like Layer, which can add this functionality to your Google Sheets.
6. Data Analysis
While there are add-ins that provide some data analysis capabilities to Excel, if you work with large amounts of data and want to perform complex data analysis, you will be disappointed. As mentioned previously, it’s not a great idea to work with very large datasets in Excel, as it has a tendency to slow down your entire computer. If you add complex calculations to the mix, you’re likely to be feeling frustrated in seconds.
Excel works well for basic correlations and regressions, but if you need more sophisticated data operations and analysis, you won’t get them in Excel.
How to Overcome the Excel Limitations?
Layer is an add-on that equips you with the tools to increase efficiency and data quality in your processes on top of Google Sheets. Share parts of your Google Sheets, monitor, review and approve changes, and sync data from different sources – all within seconds. See how it works.
Using Layer, you can:
- Share & Collaborate: Automate your data collection and validation through user controls.
- Automate & Schedule: Schedule recurring data collection and distribution tasks.
- Integrate & Sync: Connect to your tech stack and sync all your data in one place.
- Visualize & Report: Generate and share reports with real-time data and actionable decisions.
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Excel still represents the most popular go-to solution for data storage, transformation, and visualization. However, as we advance further in the era of Big Data, the standard collaboration and automation features offered by Excel fall short of what is now required by most spreadsheet users.
You should now be more familiarized with the 6 main limitations that Excel has yet to overcome and be able to find alternatives to work around these while enjoying the full potential of Excel. Although Google Sheets presents a more affordable and intuitive solution when it comes to online collaboration, Google Sheets also has its limitations. To learn more about the main differences between Excel and Google Sheets, check out our post on Google Sheets vs. Excel - The Biggest Differences.