Excel on the Web – Another Spreadsheet in the Cloud

by Gregory on June 30, 2010

Excel Web App

I decided to test the new Microsoft Excel Web App and tell you about my experience in creating a simple spreadsheet, give you a look at the interface, and share my initial opinion.

The Excel Web App – Getting Started

In order to use the Microsoft Excel Web App a Windows Live account is required. It’s relatively easy to sign up for an account and you get 25 GB of storage on a Sky Drive. You also get access to the rest of the Office Web Apps: Word, PowerPoint and OneNote.

Excel Web App vs Google Docs Spreadsheet

The Excel web app is similar to a Google Docs spreadsheet. By that I mean the spreadsheet is just a simple, basic offering. It seems like the Excel version has an advantage because the tools are more familiar and it’s integrated with the Excel 2010 desktop software.

My First Excel Web Apps Spreadsheet

My goal was to create a spreadsheet with a series of dates in one column and a formula in a second column showing the associated day. Entering and formatting column headers was simple, and similar to the desktop experience. Entering a date into a cell was also easy because it was just a simple manual entry.

And here’s where the Excel web app diverges from what I would normally do on the desktop version. In order to generate a series of dates I had to use a formula adding one (1) to the initial date. In the desktop version I would generate a list of dates with the series dialog box as I shared in a previous post. Easy peasy.

Not to worry, I’ll just use the fill handle and drag down the formula. But wait! You can’t grab the fill handle because there isn’t one. So I copy the formula, selected the range I wanted, and pasted the formula. Whew! That was a little more work than I’m used to.

Next I entered the TEXT formula in the second column and it worked perfectly. Yet I still  had to copy and paste the formula into the range below because there’s no fill handle for me to double-click and shoot it down automatically. Oh well, just feels a little rustic.

Next I clicked the Open in Excel file icon and the program asked me for my Windows Live ID and password. (I checked an option so I wouldn’t have to do this every time). Excel 2010 then started up and opened the spreadsheet file on my desktop.

I made a couple changes in Excel 2010 and then saved the file. This action saved it directly to the website and not my computer.

Using the Excel Web App, I noticed the changes made by the desktop program. I also became aware of an option to look at the Version History, which now consisted of links to two different files.

Doing a simple sort in the Excel Web App was not so simple. That’s because the only option is Sort & Filter as Table, which turns the sort range into a table.

Finally, I downloaded the file to my computer and tried to open it, but neither Excel 2010 nor Windows could recognize the file type. That was because the Excel Web App saved the file with an underscore (_) before and after the file name. Since the file extension was .XLSX_ I had to remove the trailing underscore so the file could be recognized and open correctly.

The Excel Web App Interface

There are several things you can do with Excel files in the browser. In the picture below Version history will take you to a page showing links to older versions listed by date and time. Clicking the More drop-down will give you three options: rename, download, and properties.

Excel Web Document File

Selecting the Excel Web Test file icon will open the spreadsheet in View mode. Selecting Edit in browser will open the same file in Edit mode.

View mode is shown in the picture below. Notice the active cell is B2.

Excel Web Document View

Below is the file in Edit mode. The active cell is B2, but the formula is now visible in the formula bar. You can also see the Ribbon interface.

Excel Web Document Edit

When you elect to Share a file the following screen pops up to give you a link.

Excel Web File Share Link

The permissions link (above) brings you to another screen (below) to manage who can access the file.

Excel Web File Share Options

Excel Web App Menus

Shown below are the menus you get in Excel’s web app. They’re considerably abbreviated when compared to the desktop program, but hey, this is a web app.

The File Menu

Clicking the “Where’s the Save Button?” will inform you the spreadsheet is saved automatically.

Excel Web File Menu

The Home Menu

This menu is one continuous bar that I cut in two so it would fit here on this web page.

Excel Web Home Menu 1

Excel Web Home Menu 1

Excel Web Home Menu 2

Excel Web Home Menu 2

Notice Sort & Filter as Table menu item shown above. You can’t really sort with out having the program put the data into a table, but at least they let you know beforehand with a pop-up box.

Excel Web Sort as Table Pop-Up

The Insert Menu

Excel Web Insert Menu

Excel Web Insert Menu

My First-Look Opinion

I am a hard-core Excel user. And while I don’t mind going through a learning curve, the effort required should make me more productive, e.g. slicers, power pivot. The problem I have with web based spreadsheets is that you have to go through a learning curve, but the end result is being less effective because the tools and features are much less than the desktop version of Excel and productivity suffers.

However, there is a place for the Excel Web App. I’m just not sure where it fits for me. The lack of features is mitigated by being able to use the Excel 2010 desktop program. So for me it’s a better choice for an online spreadsheet then Google Docs. And I really like the idea of 25 GB of storage. I just have to figure out how to make use of it.

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Jon Peltier March 11, 2011 at 4:49 am

I’ve found the Excel Web App to be a pretty cool implementation. I don’t think its purpose is for hard core activities (model development, etc.), but it provides an awesome platform for interactive reporting.

I noticed that a lot of things that aren’t supported directly in the web app (i.e., that you can’t do in the web app), can be done in the client, and appear or work as intended in the web app. Nice job with the round-tripping.

Gregory March 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm

@John, good point about things you can’t do in the web app, but if done in Excel on the desktop will work in the cloud. Hopefully Microsoft will continue to develop this Excel web app and bring more features.

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