What Is Google Sheets?

What you need to know about the free spreadsheet system

An image of a laptop with an open spreadsheet in Google Sheets
Google Sheets shines when it comes to collaboration and integration with other Google products. Google

Google Sheets is a free, web-based program for creating and editing spreadsheets.

Google Sheets, along with Google Docs and Google Slides, is a part of what Google calls Google Drive. It's similar to how Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft PowerPoint are each individual parts within Microsoft Office.

Google Sheets excels* most with those who have modest spreadsheet requirements, work remotely from multiple devices, and/or collaborate with others.

*Yes, that's a solid spreadsheet pun!

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Google Sheets Compatibility

An image of a laptop, tablet, and smartphone each using Google Sheets
Google Sheets supports the most common spreadsheet formats and file types. Google

Google Sheets is available as a web application, accessible through Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer 11, Microsoft Edge, and Safari. This means that Google Sheets is compatible with all desktops and laptops (e.g. Windows, Mac, Linux) that can run any of the aforementioned web browsers. A Google Sheets mobile app is also available to install on Android (running version 4.4 KitKat and newer) and iOS (running version 9.0 and newer) devices.

Google Sheets supports a list of common spreadsheet formats and file types:

Users can open/import, edit, and save/export spreadsheets (including Microsoft Excel) and documents with Google Sheets. Excel files can be easily converted to Google Sheets and vice versa.

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Using Google Sheets

A businesswoman using a laptop at a large wooden desk
Google Sheets offers the basic and frequently-used features that one would expect when working with spreadsheets. Image Source / Getty Images

Since Google Sheets is available through Google Drive, one needs to first log in with a Google account in order to create, edit, save, and share files. The Google account acts like a unified sign-in system that gives access to Google’s product catalog–Gmail is not required for using Google Drive/Sheets, as any email address can be associated with a Google account.

Google Sheets offers the basic and frequently-used features that one would expect when working with spreadsheets, such as (but not limited to):

  • Customize the spreadsheet and data (with autofill capability)
  • Work with rows, columns, and cells
  • Implement functions, macros, and scripts for complex calculations
  • Add charts/graphs, pivot tables, and images
  • Import and/or search for data in spreadsheets

However, there are some notable strengths to using Google Sheets versus other options:

  • Work with the same document every time — even from multiple devices, platforms, and/or locations — since files are stored in the cloud (Google Drive). Changes are automatically saved, and offline editing (via mobile app and the Google Chrome web browser) is also available.
  • Share files with others (instead of emailing multiple copies back and forth) for collaborative, real-time editing, commenting, and chatting. Google Sheets’ built-in revision history tracks all changes (both the people and edits they made) and gives users the option to restore the file to an earlier version.
  • Integration/access to other Google products, such as Google Forms (for creating/inserting feedback polls/questionnaires/surveys on spreadsheet presentations), Google Translate (cell functions for translating languages), or Google Finance (automatically finds and inputs specified finance info).
  • Easy to learn/teach and is free for individual use.
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Versus Microsoft Excel

App icons for Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets
Google Sheets is great for modest requirements, but Microsoft Excel can create practically anything. Stanley Goodner / Lifewire

There is a reason that Microsoft Excel is the industry standard, especially for business/enterprise. Microsoft Excel has robust depth and resources that allow users do and create practically anything. Although Google Sheets presents distinct advantages for the right types of people, it is no true replacement for Microsoft Excel, which includes (but not limited to):

  • More options for templates, customization, and advanced editing/formatting tools
  • Automatic adjustment of formulas when adding/deleting categories
  • Management and processing of huge amounts of data
  • A vast selection of charts and graphs for presenting information
  • Advanced functions/formulas ideal for finance, statistics, science, engineering, etc.