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Before we had spreadsheet software, people spent hours calculating budgets or their company’s future earnings on paper. If they wanted to change a single number, they’d better have a big eraser. This, of course, was extremely manual and error-prone. In 1979, the first spreadsheet software was born. Then came Microsoft Excel, which became the gold standard in business tools. In 2007, Google launched Sheets and brought the spreadsheet into our browsers.
You can, of course, use Sheets for traditional number-crunching. If you’re trying to figure out the budget for your upcoming family vacation, Sheets will do the job. But it can also do so much more, like create beautiful and informative charts and graphs automatically, organize information captured in forms, or act as a CRM for your business.
If you’re familiar with Excel, you’ll understand Sheets quickly. The app uses much of the same terminology (cells, columns, rows, ranges, and so on), and also supports formulas. Google Sheets Formulas can be used to calculate numbers, manipulate data, and more. Want to know the average amount you’ve spent on groceries over the past three years? Use the
AVERAGE function to find the answer quickly. Or maybe you’ve got one spreadsheet with product price and another spreadsheet with product inventory levels—you need to combine the two datasets based on a key identifier like product name, and don’t want to waste time looking up, copying, and pasting the information. You can use the
VLOOKUP function to find information in one spreadsheet and put it in the right row in another.
In addition to the standard formulas, Sheets also has many unique functions that leverage Google’s other tools and only work because it's an online spreadsheet app. For example, you can use the
GOOGLETRANSLATE function to translate text from one language to another. Or
IMPORTFEED to import an RSS or ATOM feed right into your spreadsheet.
Or, you can let Google Sheets make sense of your data for you. Open the Explore tab in the lower right corner to see answers Google Sheets has found from your data and suggested graphs it thinks organize the data well. Make sure it's comparing the correct values—but often, the graphs and tips it recommends can be a helpful way to learn from your spreadsheet info.
Perhaps Sheets' best feature is that it’s online—you don’t need to download any software to use it. All the data in your spreadsheets is saved automatically, so you never lose changes. You can download spreadsheets in Excel or PDF formats before shipping it to someone else. You can even download a Chrome add-on to open, edit, and save Excel files without needing to do any conversion. It also has apps for iOS and Android, so you can get work done anywhere.
If you need to collaborate or share information with a family member or coworker, all you need is their email. You can give view-only or editing permissions to your collaborators, and see their updates and changes in real time—no more sending documents back and forth and losing the most up-to-date version. You can even make a publish spreadsheet to let anyone help. When working on a spreadsheet together, you can add comments to specific cells or chat right within the document. All communication stays in the spreadsheet and never gets lost. Google Sheets saves every version of every change made so you can undo edits or archive versions of your document to see how things changed over time.
If you’re looking for a more productive way to crunch numbers, manipulate data, visualize information in charts and graphs, and efficiently collaborate with others, Sheets will work for you. It's a new take on the original spreadsheet that can help you work from anywhere, faster.
Learn more about Google Sheets with our guides to Google Sheets' advanced features:
- Become a Google Sheets expert with our free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Google Sheets
- Build a Spreadsheet CRM with Google Sheets to manage your contacts
- Automate Google Sheets with our Introduction to Google Apps Script
- Get more out of Google Sheets with these 50 best Google Sheets add-ons
Originally published November 9, 2015; updated March 22, 2018 with new screenshots and features including Explore pane.