Why We Use Excel, Google Sheets, AND Libre Office Calc

When we were first starting the business and saving every single penny mattered, we shunned buying a lot of expensive software (x 4 people) and instead embraced free open source alternatives like Mozilla Thunderbird and Open Office.

As time went on though it became apparent that we needed Microsoft Office, particularly Excel, for two main reasons. First, the advanced tools in Excel could make real positive impacts on our business when it came to higher level data analysis like forecasting. Second, other companies we work with would often send over files created in Excel that could really only be viewed, edited, and sent back properly in Excel. For better or worse, it’s still the standard spreadsheet software in almost all businesses.

The more interesting thing I think is how we’ve continued to use Libre Office Calc (a spinoff of Open Office) and Google Sheets even though we have Excel because they each have strengths where Excel can be weak.

Google Sheets is great because it’s web based, fast, super simple, and it integrates so well with Google Apps. It’s not yet good for anything even remotely complex, but 95% of spreadsheets aren’t complex. That ease of use and ease of sharing overrides the limitations so in most cases we still try to start off with a Google Sheet unless we know that the project will be complex from the start. Excel can be intimidating to people who aren’t used to working in spreadsheets. We’ve found that the simplicity of Google Sheets allows a novice to utilize spreadsheets without going through formal training or reading lots of tutorials.

When we do use Excel, we typically save it to our local Google Drive folders so we can share it like we do a Google Sheet. I’m sure Microsoft’s One Drive is smoother at this, but we’re heavily baked into the Google Apps world so that wouldn’t make much sense for us. If we were starting out again I think I’d still pick Google, if for no other reason than Gmail, but One Drive and online Office seem like a worthy competitor.

Why then would we still use Libre Office? In my experience Libre Office Calc does one thing exceedingly better than Excel: CSV files. I download, open, edit, save, and upload CSV files all the time. I’ll import to our database using CSVs, export info from vendors in CSV format, and maybe most importantly our import/export system for shipping is built using the CSV format (importing orders into the shipping software, exporting tracking numbers back to our database). Excel makes too many assumptions that are difficult to change on a file-to-file basis, whereas Libre prompts you with all of the options each time you open or save a CSV.

Oddly enough, I think any web-based business like ours would have similar problems, so as crazy as it sounds if someone starting a similar company approached me I’d suggest using all 3 solutions. With more spreadsheet tools in your toolbox you end up using the best tool for the job each time.

2 comments on Why We Use Excel, Google Sheets, AND Libre Office Calc

  1. Rob says:

    I agree 100% for all of the reasons as you’ve laid out – I’ve found exactly the same issues with handling CSVs in calc vs excel and I use sheets for most things unless it’s going to get super complicated. I have found it frustrating that some features have been removed from sheets over the years though (list view and solver are annoying, as are some of the other array data manipulation tools) but generally it’s possible to find workarounds or move to Excel for those projects.

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