Google Spreadsheets gain sophisticated charting

Excel might be able to crunch serious numbers for accountants, but new charts make Google Spreadsheets a better choice for displaying data on the Web.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Having just completed a Google Apps training session for one of my clients today, I tucked away Google's announcement of improved charts within their Spreadsheets App for a followup session. While Excel remains king of the spreadsheets, the revised charting and other recent enhancements to the editor and interface make Google Spreadsheets a competitive tool for most users.

Google introduced the new features Tuesday in a blog post and the movie below shows the enhancements.

And while Excel may be king of the spreadsheets, Google has a few tricks up its sleeve. The organization chart, for example, is generated dynamically based on data in the spreadsheet (click here to see an example). Excel requires users to create org charts as SmartArt graphics with no data-driven or programmatic interfaces. Similarly, the longitudinal representations of data are quite powerful. When combined with a form or other interface to add data which are updated in real time and reflected immediately on the chart (which can be embedded in a web page), then there is a lot of functionality that leverages the cloud in ways that Excel just can't. Click here for an example of the "motion chart" (longitudinal analysis).

In fact, I would argue that if your goal is generally to represent data on the Web and your needs don't extend to really sophisticated database-driven analytics, then Google Spreadsheets is actually a better choice than Excel. With virtually any other tool, making dynamic, data-driven charts appear on the Web is no small feat. With these new charting features, it's as easy as entering the data and embedding the chart on a Web page or blog.

I've argued before that Google is better off not trying to create an Office clone in its Apps suite. Rather, they need to focus on exploiting the features of a cloud-based tool that Office just can't match (at least not without SharePoint behind it). In this case, they did just that with attractive, dynamic charts that are simple to create and embed.

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