Google Sheets vs. Excel: What’s the Difference?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about the similarities and differences between Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel to decide which spreadsheet software is best for you.

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Google Sheets is an online spreadsheet software known for its collaboration, while Microsoft Excel is desktop software that manages large data sets and complex computations. Both are well-known and can aid in many facets of business, like forecasting future performance, calculating taxes or revenues, aiding in payroll functions, and creating charts.

While both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel give users the ability to create and manage spreadsheets, each has its strengths and weaknesses. This article explores those differences in greater detail to help you decide on the option that will work best for you. 

Learn Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel today

Who better to learn Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel from than their respective companies?

In Google Cloud's Google Sheets course, you'll learn how to create a spreadsheet, use different methods to fill it with data, and how to create basic formulas.

In Microsoft's Work Smarter with Excel course, you'll get comfortable creating a new spreadsheet, working with basic formulas and functions, making your spreadsheets look professional and presentable, and saving and printing a spreadsheet.


Summary of Google Sheets

Google Sheets is a web-based application that provides users access to seamless collaboration or solo creation, editing, and management of spreadsheets from their browser. The spreadsheet solution, which launched in 2006 and is part of Google's G Suite, is free and easy to use.

Google Sheets offers simultaneous collaboration, which means multiple people from different locations can edit the spreadsheet with information updated in real time. 

While collaboration is one of its biggest perks, Google Sheets offers the day-to-day functionality that users typically need. With Google Sheets, users can: 

  • Create, edit, format, and save spreadsheets online

  • Apply formulas and functions to data sets

  • Visualize spreadsheet data in basic charts or graphs

  • Share documents and folders with multiple users 

  • Import spreadsheets into other file formats like Google Docs or Microsoft Word

Hear more about Google Sheets from Google themselves in this lecture from Google Cloud's Getting Started with Google Workspace Specialization:

Who uses Google Sheets?

Since the software is free, students, teachers, and small businesses often turn to Google Sheets for their spreadsheet needs. 

Additionally, its collaboration features set it apart, making it preferred by many small teams that need to collaborate or companies that rely heavily on remote workers. With team members working in different countries and time zones, Google Sheets gives everyone a chance to work together in their own time frame. Remote teams tend to rely on other Google tools, including Google Meet, Slides, and Docs, so working within one suite of tools makes sense.

Advantages of Google Sheets vs. Microsoft Excel

Both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel have their advantages, but Google Sheets' affordability and collaboration stand out among its benefits. 


Google Sheets is free for individuals. Businesses pay $6/month/user for the entire suite of Google tools, including Google Sheets [1]. Microsoft Excel offers a free version but withholds some of its functionality. To use all of the features within Excel spreadsheets, you have to upgrade to the full suite of Microsoft products, which is $69.99 a year [2]. 


Collaboration through Google Sheets is easy. By sharing a spreadsheet with coworkers, each person can make edits and see them in real time. The software automatically saves any changes you make. This feature allows users to always work with the latest version. 

With Microsoft Excel, collaboration is difficult. You can save a spreadsheet in a shared drive and pass it back and forth, but it doesn’t offer any real-time collaboration or sharing. Uploading an Excel file to Microsoft Teams is one way to navigate around this limitation.

Disadvantages of Google Sheets vs. Microsoft Excel

Google Sheets, like any software, has some drawbacks, which in this case, focus on security issues and data errors. 


While collaboration is a perk, the ease with which you can share a spreadsheet is cause for concern. Since you can share a spreadsheet via email, it can leave company data vulnerable to unauthorized sharing. Security is not an issue with Microsoft Excel since online collaboration isn't a feature.

Data errors

With so many people updating a sheet at once, errors are easy to miss in Google Sheets. Identifying who made the mistake is also problematic. If you find a problem in a formula, for example, you can update the data, or you can revert back to an older version by looking through the version history. 

Summary of Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is a software solution used to organize numbers and data using formulas and functions. Businesses are often among the primary users of this software, which was released in 1987 and is part of the Microsoft Office Suite.  

Excel's ability to provide statistical analysis and visual data using graphs and charts sets it apart. The software offers an array of visualization tools, including standard column, bar, and line charts and more complex options like Waterfall, stock, and sunburst charts. If you need to explain data or tell a story using statistics, Excel's capabilities are well-suited for it. 

With Microsoft Excel, you can:

  • Create Worksheets and calculate data with formulas

  • Produce visually appealing charts and graphs 

  • Use tools to conduct data analysis

  • Prepare diagrams, mock-ups, and Gantt Charts 

Take a closer look at formulas and functions in Microsoft Excel in this lecture from Microsoft's Microsoft 365 Fundamentals Specialization:

Who uses Microsoft Excel?

Microsoft Excel is best for people or businesses that need complex data analysis. The software can manage a lot of data and offers formulas, functionality, visualization tools, and spreadsheet editors that benefit advanced users. 

This program is helpful for professionals in various roles. For example, business and data analysts often turn to Excel to make sense of large amounts of data. Accountants, project managers, and office administrators are just a few additional examples of people who could use Microsoft Excel to help with day-to-day functions. 

Advantages of Microsoft Excel vs. Google Sheets

Microsoft Excel has many benefits, but its ability to manage large data sets exceeds Google Sheets’ capabilities. The software also has a faster processing speed.   

Great with large data sets

Excel offers a combination of helpful formulas and the ability to manage large volumes of data while allowing users to perform various calculations. The software can easily handle thousands or even millions of rows of statistics, so if your job requires data analysis, Microsoft's software prevails over Google Sheets. 

Faster processing speed

Since Microsoft Excel is a desktop application, it uses your computer's processor to crunch data and keep everything up-to-date. In simple terms, the software moves faster than Google Sheets, which is slower because it's web-based software.

Disadvantages of Microsoft Excel vs. Google Sheets

Microsoft Excel has its limitations. For example, the software is better suited to users with some experience because it can be complex for beginners to learn or use. Likewise, it serves users who need complex functions and have a limited need for collaboration within the software. 

High learning curve

Excel can be intimidating. Since it has so many complex features,  it can be daunting for a beginner to use. While online video tutorials can help, understanding the full capacity of Excel takes time. 

Collaboration is cumbersome

You cannot collaborate in real time with Microsoft Excel. Users can save their Worksheet, which is the term it uses for a spreadsheet, in a cloud-based drive like OneDrive, but users must download, update, and save it before the next person can work on it. 

What can Google Sheets do that Microsoft Excel can't?

Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel are similar programs and share many common features. Google Sheets is a better program for beginners than Microsoft Excel, but other aspects of the software set it apart from its competitors. Google Sheets is best for: 

  • Collaboration

  • East of use

  • Real-time chat and commenting

What can Microsoft Excel do that Google Sheets can't?

Microsoft Excel shares many features with Google Sheets, but it's best for companies that need serious data computations. Excel performs certain functions better than its competitors. Excel offers:

  • Hundreds of functions and formulas

  • Tools like Power Query and Power Pivot that increase analysis capabilities

  • Keyboard shortcuts to streamline data entry and computations

Determining the best program for your needs

If you're trying to figure out which spreadsheet software is best for your needs, consider how you plan to use it. Google Sheets is a good choice if you're looking for basic spreadsheet functions. If you need to upload, track, and analyze large sets of data, Microsoft Excel is ideal. 

In addition to considering its use, you can also weigh the software's costs, collaboration features, tools for statistical analysis, and ease of use.


  • Google Sheets offers free online spreadsheets without limiting features or functions. 

  • Microsoft Excel has a free version with limited features and functions. 


  • Google Sheets offers easy collaboration between multiple team members.

  • Microsoft Excel is difficult to collaborate with and doesn’t offer real-time collaboration. 

Tools for statistical analysis 

  • Google Sheets offers basic visualization tools.

  • Microsoft Excel has complex visualization tools built in.

Ease of use

  • Google Sheets is easier to learn and is ideal for beginners.

  • Microsoft Excel has a higher learning curve. 

Data analyst certificate

If you're working in a job that requires data analysis or are interested in obtaining such a job, online courses can help you sharpen your skills. Consider researching the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate on Coursera. This beginner-level course, which takes just six months to complete, explores how to process and analyze data and use essential analysis tools and visualizations to inform business decisions.

Next steps

As you explore and compare Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets, consider the features and functions you'll need it for, prioritize your needs, and set a budget. You might decide to try both pieces of software to see which you prefer working with.

When you make a selection, you'll likely need to do some training, be it through do-it-yourself tutorials, guided projects, or courses on Coursera like Google Cloud's Google Sheets course or Microsoft's Work Smarter with Microsoft Excel course.

Article sources


Google Workspace. "Features and Pricing," Accessed April 3, 2024. 

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