Which Cloud Spreadsheet Platform Is Best

Spreadsheet app

The cloud has enabled a true mobility of experience for many workers, and while the largest and most complicated spreadsheets still require a fully-featured Excel install, that may not be the case for all users. For those on the road, or those simply trying to escape the cubicle farm, cloud-based spreadsheet apps are enticing, and may even be good enough.

For this reason, we tested the three major online vendors, including Excel Online, Google Sheets, and Zoho Sheets. Which one works best for you? Find out below.


Thankfully, all three of these services support all calculations, vlookups, concatenates, etc. However, they are still not created equal.

Excel Online

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s offering is the most pitifully featured of the three of them, even missing standard features like Defined Names, Pivot Tables and Pivot Charts.

Excel Online

But even features like Text-to-Columns Remove-duplicates are missing, with only a brief note to say, “Open in Excel Desktop” instead. Unfortunately, Microsoft handicapped their online offering entirely for the purpose of selling Office 365, which certainly bites them in the butt.

Of note, Excel Online is limited to documents smaller than 5 MB.

Google Sheets

Sheets supports creating and editing everything I’ve mentioned above that Excel Online does not, although Text-to-Columns and Remove Duplicates are strange exceptions that can only be found through add-ons.

Google Sheets Pivot Table and Chart

Sheets has a scripting engine available for creating macros on-the-fly, but it uses Google Apps Script (.gs files), which is a Javascript-based language. Those used to scripting in Visual Basic will need to dust off that Javascript book on their shelf, or take some classes to learn.

Thankfully, more knowledgeable devs have filled the add-on library with additional features. Unfortunately, like most app stores, the vast majority of what’s in there is garbage or incredibly niche, and may require digging.

Finally, Google Sheets is limited to spreadsheets with less than two million cells.

Zoho Sheets

Zoho Sheets Data Functions

Zoho’s offering natively supports everything Excel Online doesn’t, even things Sheets requires add-ons for. In addition to data validation, Zoho Sheets even offers some formula troubleshooting via a Goal Seeker and Solver function.

Zoho Scripting

Also, I found myself preferring Zoho’s macro support over Google’s. Your preference for Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) vs. Google Apps Script may vary, but Excel gurus will certainly prefer the fact that Zoho supports VBA. However, the ability to record, save, and run macros is much more invaluable for the vast majority of spreadsheet junkies.

Finally, Zoho Sheets is limited in its online version to files no larger than 10 MB.


To test compatibility, we threw older docs with 97-2003-based visual elements as well as brand new sheets with Pivot charts, Sparklines, Histograms and newer Excel graph types.

Excel Online

Excel Online performed admirably here. Every formula, graph, sparkline, etc. that I threw at it was rendered perfectly.

Excel Compatibility

Older sheets required a short conversion process, but seemed to render fine afterwards. Even this old sheet with a ‘97-based scatter graph worked perfectly fine.

Excel Old Sheet

Oddly enough, Excel Online cannot create new Pivot Tables or Defined Ranges, but can utilize them when they already exist on the spreadsheet. It should also be mentioned that while Sparklines appeared, they show up only as an object image, and cannot be modified.

Google Sheets

Google Sheets does not like older docs at all. Unfortunately, the older doc I mentioned above would not open at all, even after removing all graphs and visual elements. What’s worse is that Sheets doesn’t troubleshoot import errors.

Google Sheets Conversion

The newer spreadsheet was another matter. Most Pivot Tables and Charts, Sparklines, and Defined Names worked and populated within the formula bar. However, Sheets did not support any Histogram-style graphs built in Excel, and one of my pivot charts converted into the mess shown above.

Google Sheets Incompatible Histogram

Zoho Sheets

Unlike Google Sheets, Zoho’s offering managed to open older spreadsheets once most of the object images were removed, and without converting it to Zoho’s native format at that.

Zoho Broken Histogram

However, Zoho doesn’t like newer spreadsheets. Sparklines and Histograms were completely missing. A chart with 3 levels of data was completely broken.

Zoho 3D Charts

All the 3D Pivot charts based on only 2-level data sets converted to Zoho format just fine.

Sharing and Collaboration

Excel Online

Microsoft has made great strides in the collaboration game recently, finally adding real-time collaboration within OneDrive last year.

Excel Edit Audit

In practice, it actually works well. Real-time edits show up fairly quickly and are automatically noted with the user name in case you missed the change.

Excel Sharing

Collaboration is possible with anyone you send links to, regardless of whether they have a Microsoft account. Unfortunately, no link passwords or expirations are available for single items.

Google Sheets

Google Sheets Sharing

Google also offers full collaboration links to be sent to non-Google users. However, Google also offers a couple more options like restrictions on re-sharing, downloading, and printing.

Google Sheets Collaboration

Google also offers speedier real-time collaboration than Excel Online.

But I was frustrated by the lack of an audit trail. Unlike their own excellent Docs app, Sheets will not display who made what change where, just a notice of where the users’ cursor is currently.

Zoho Sheets

Zoho Collaboration

Zoho Sheets also supports speedy real-time collaboration as well, but with an integrated chat box. Unfortunately, Zoho has the same lack of edit notes as Google Sheets, but at least offers an audit log that you can check within the Review tab.

Zoho Sharing Options

Zoho only allows free accounts to send collaboration links to other Zoho Docs users.

Paid users under a $5/month Standard plan or $8/month Premium plan can send public collaboration links, as well as set password protection and expiration dates, unlike the other two services. But the paywall is a bit annoying.

However, Zoho is integrated into many services with their own sharing and collaboration options, including Google Drive and Dropbox.


Inevitably, all three services fit into different needs. Those that are still fully integrated into the Excel ecosystem, and don’t need a lot of features in their mobile experience, will want to use OneDrive and Excel Online.

However, Zoho Sheets comes up as the surprise runner-up. Zoho actually contains enough functionality and enough collaboration features that it could be a great overall option and due to its Drive compatibility, even a replacement to the somewhat anemic Google Sheets or an editor in Dropbox.

Have a favorite spreadsheet service of your own? Let us know!

Mike Lohnash

Mike Lohnash

Mike has nurtured a passion for all things tech for over ten years as a hobbyist, retailer, tech supporter, and spreadsheet jockey. He’s been an optimistic evangelist for the power of the cloud since the days of server-aided file sharing. In his spare time he loves reading and writing about faraway lands, playing games within them, and has a slightly unhealthy obsession for Star Wars.

Mike Lohnash


I write stuff about things. Anythings. Currently writing fiction and freelance cloud stuff for http://t.co/ikv0W7ocS5

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