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It’s safe to say that spreadsheet users are divided between Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. Whereas Google Sheets emerged as the cloud-based free competitor, Microsoft Excel appealed to the more advanced spreadsheet users. But, is Google Sheets the same as Excel? The answer depends on what aspect you are focusing on. Microsoft Excel now also offers a cloud environment and Google Sheets continues to incorporate new features to make data processing and analysis more advanced.

In this article, you’ll learn the key differences between Excel and Google Sheets, and the pros and cons of each in terms of collaboration, automation, and pricing. This should help you decide between Google Sheets vs Microsoft Excel and answer questions such as “Is Excel better than Google Sheets?”, and vice versa, according to your specific needs. Alternatively, Layer offers workaround solutions to the most common setbacks of both platforms.

Google Sheets vs. Excel: Key Differences

Launched in 1987 as part of Microsoft Office, Excel has been the go-to spreadsheet tool for most users, offering superior analytics and visualization features. It wasn’t until the latest release of the Microsoft 365 suite that users could enjoy Excel for the web, the online version of Excel. Until then, most users had installed it as desktop software on their computers.

On the other hand, Google Sheets already entered the market as a cloud-based platform that could easily be accessed through a web browser. Although this meant Google Sheets offered more basic functions, it’s slowly but surely caught up to Excel’s more advanced features.

Let’s go into a more in-depth review of the pros and cons offered by Google Sheets and Excel spreadsheets.

Collaboration

Although Google Sheets was the first to allow for real-time collaboration, Excel now offers the co-authoring feature.

Collaboration in Google Sheets

One of the greatest advantages offered by Google Sheets from the very beginning was the sharing process. Still today, it offers the most user-friendly way to share your spreadsheet with other users. By simply clicking on the “Share” button, other users can access the file to view, comment, or make changes. What’s more, it’s as easy to share as it is to manage access to the file. Users can manage collaboration in Google Sheets by making the file public to selected users. This can be done by copying and pasting the link on your preferred communication platform; alternatively, you can send the link via email.

Another great collaboration feature is the “Comments” function. If you want to assign a comment to a specific user you can simply add the “@” before your message and the user will get an email notification. This is a great way to keep conversations controlled and inside the spreadsheet.

Collaboration in Excel

Excel’s online version was released under the Microsoft 365 suite; however, it doesn’t offer the same capabilities as the desktop version. This makes the sharing process a bit more complicated. Although it does offer a “Share” button that is easily spotted, it will only work if you have previously saved the workbook to your OneDrive or OneDrive for Business, Microsoft’s cloud storage platform.

Excel AutoSave is also a great collaboration feature that automatically updates changes and makes them visible to everyone simultaneously. Like Google Sheets, the “@” mentions can also be used in comments to notify other users about important changes.

In terms of online collaboration, Google Sheets may be the preferred option for ease of use. Alternatively, Layer is a tool that works on top of Google Sheets and Excel and offers powerful collaboration functions.

Collaboration in Layer

  • Tracking changes is possible. Layer’s version control system helps you track changes and select which ones to merge or discard.
  • More control over access. You can share sheets or cell ranges, without having to share the whole spreadsheet.
  • No need for comments. You can handle any change by approving the data that is merged to the master file. This way, you don’t have to rely on “@ mentions” or comments that may be overlooked.
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Automation

Working with spreadsheets always entails manual work of some kind. Automation features are especially useful for repetitive tasks. In terms of automation power, this is how Google Sheets and Excel compare.

Automation in Google Sheets

Google Sheets has recently included Google Apps Script, which is used to record any action that you’d like to trigger in the future. You can create keyboard shortcuts for faster execution so any time you want to trigger or complete a task, you simply enter the shortcut, and Google Sheets will trigger the action.

Although limited in terms of automation features, paired with the collaboration advantages, Google Sheets is to become a more powerful automation tool.

Automation in Excel

Microsoft 365 has certainly upgraded in terms of automation tools. Previous Excel versions already allowed users to automate tasks through VBA macros, user-generated rules that are used to record keystrokes and actions in your spreadsheet to then trigger automatically in the future. However, this requires some level of coding skills.

Power Automate is a more recent application, where you can create workflows to automate connections and data transfer between Microsoft applications, including Excel. The advantage here is you don’t need to use a single line of code and can set up your workflow from scratch or start with one of the many templates available.

In terms of automation power, Excel is currently superior to Google Sheets. However, if you work with both or still prefer Google Sheets, Layer presents powerful automation capabilities that will help you work around its limitations.

Automation in Layer

These are just some of the tasks that you can automate in Layer to reach your business goals in time:

  • Data updates: All data is linked to a master file, so any information you add is automatically transferred. You can save yourself from back-and-forth emails or multiple file versions.
  • Task reminders: Assign tasks and deadlines to users, and they receive reminders at established intervals. You won’t have to intervene in the process at all.
  • Data reviews: You can track and review all data changes before it's merged back into the master file.

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Pricing

If there is one thing that will shift the balance to Google Sheets, it is the fact that it’s free. Additionally, you only need to have a personal Gmail account, and you have access to almost all Google products, including Sheets.

Although the online version of Excel, Excel for the web, is also free, you won’t be getting the full range of features. To enjoy its full potential in collaborations and automation, you’ll need to subscribe to one of the available plans, for Home or Business. Here’s a quick overview of the prices:

  • Microsoft 365 Personal: $69.99/year or $6.99/month
  • Microsoft 365 Family: $99.99/year or $9.99/month
  • Microsoft 365 Business Basic: $6.00/month
  • Microsoft 365 Business Standard: $12.50/month
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium: $22.00/month
  • Microsoft 365 Apps for business: $8.25/month

It’s safe to say that in terms of pricing, Google Sheets offers a less complex and cheaper option.

How to automate your FP&A on top of Google Sheets?

Layer is an add-on that equips finance teams with the tools to increase efficiency and data quality in their FP&A 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.

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.

Limited Time Offer: Sign up today and get free access to Layer, including all the paid features, so you can start managing, automating, and scaling your FP&A processes on top of Google Sheets!

Conclusion

Google Sheets offers an intuitive interface that is easily manageable for most users, for personal and business use. It’s also the most affordable option to date if you’re looking for an online platform to store, manage, and collaborate on data in real-time. For more complex data processing tasks and flexible budgets, Excel is still the best data management solution. If you're not looking to collaborate online, then the desktop version offers unparalleled customization and speed.

This is why Layer can be used to enjoy the best of both applications without facing any limitations. To learn more about how Layer can help you automate workflows and collaborate with multiple users on spreadsheets, read our latest Success Story.

Hady ElHady
Hady is Content Lead at Layer.

Hady has a passion for tech, marketing, and spreadsheets. Besides his Computer Science degree, he has vast experience in developing, launching, and scaling content marketing processes at SaaS startups.

Originally published Jun 1 2022, Updated Sep 23 2022