Online Spreadsheet Programs
Spreadsheets are simple, yet powerful, investment analysis tools. In each issue of Computerized Investing, the Spreadsheet Corner introduces spreadsheet templates and utilities that individual investors may use in their investment analysis and tracking. Over the years, there have been many spreadsheet programs: AppleWorks, Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Excel and Quattro Pro, just to name a few. While a useful analytical tool, spreadsheet software can be a bit pricey. According to the Microsoft website, Excel retails for around $140.
With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies and faster Internet connections, there has been a trend in recent years toward online spreadsheets. These Web-based applications offer many of the features found with their software-based brethren at little or no cost. While typically not as powerful as software-based spreadsheet programs, online spreadsheets have the benefit of being accessible via a Web browser without the need to buy and install software. Furthermore, many online spreadsheets allow for multi-user collaboration, meaning that you can share your spreadsheet with other users, who can also collaborate in modifying and enhancing the spreadsheet. In this article, we cover some of the more full-featured online spreadsheets available today and discuss their functionality. To evaluate each service, we attempted to replicate the Simple Valuation Spreadsheet discussed in this issue’s Spreadsheet Corner article that begins on page 12.
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Arguably the most popular suite of online document tools is Google Docs, which includes a text, spreadsheet and presentation editor. The service is free, but it does require that you sign up for an account. The easiest way to do this is to sign up for a Gmail account at www.gmail.com (if you already have a Gmail account, you can access Google Docs).
Google Docs works across Windows, Mac OS X and Ubuntu Linux platforms. It also is compatible with many of today’s popular Web browsers, including Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.0+, Safari 3+ and Google Chrome.
Google Spreadsheets allows you to import files in a variety of formats, including Microsoft Excel (.xls and .xlsx), OpenDocument (, comma-separated values ( and text ( files. With a free account, Google gives you 1G (1,024M) of free space. You can also pay for additional storage; prices begin at $5 a year for 20G of space.
Importing existing spreadsheet files into Google Spreadsheets is very easy and straightforward. After signing into your Google account, go to the Google Docs homepage. There, click on the Create New drop-down button on the left side of the page and then select Spreadsheet. This will open a new unsaved spreadsheet. Click on File at the top left of the screen and select Import. From within the Import file pop-up window, click on the Browse button and specify the location of the file you wish to import. Once you have done this, click the Import button at the bottom left of the Import file window. After the import is complete, click the Open Now button to view the spreadsheet in Google Spreadsheets. Figure 1 shows AAII’s Simple Valuation Spreadsheet after it has been imported into Google Spreadsheets, with no editing or formatting done on our part.
You can also download spreadsheets you create on Google Spreadsheets to your local PC for use “off the cloud.” You can download spreadsheets in comma-separated values, HTML ( , text ( , Excel (.xls) and (.xlsx), OpenOffice Calc ( and PDF ( formats.
One of the biggest drawbacks with online spreadsheets is that they don’t have as many functions for manipulating data as spreadsheet software does. However, all of the underlying functions from our original spreadsheet carried over to Google Spreadsheets.
Google Spreadsheets supports over 300 functions, including financial, engineering, math and statistical functions. For a complete listing of the supported functions, follow this link: http://docs.google.com/support/bin/topic.py?topic=15164.
Currently Google Spreadsheets supports over 40 financial functions, such as effective annual interest rate, future value, internal rate of return) and net present value.
In order to enter a function into your Google spreadsheet, click in the cell where you want the function embedded and then click the function button (∑) on the toolbar at the top of the worksheet.
Google Spreadsheets also supports pivot tables, albeit via a third-party plug-in. Also, you can integrate macros into a Google Spreadsheet using Google Apps Scripts.
Beyond the functions mentioned above, Google Spreadsheets also supports lookup functions for stock and mutual fund data provided by Google Finance, which are then dynamically updated. For a listing of the GoogleFinance functions currently available, follow this link: http://docs.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=54198.
To use the GoogleFinance function, enter this formula into the spreadsheet cell:
- “symbol” represents the stock symbol of the stock or mutual fund you’re looking for; and
- “attribute” represents the type of market data you want (if you leave attribute blank, price is automatically returned).
For the Google Spreadsheet version of our Simple Valuation Spreadsheet, we made use of some of the functions available to us. Here are some examples:
Cell B3 displays the company name for the ticker entered in Cell B5
Cell G3 displays the current intraday price for the ticker entered in Cell B5
Cell K3 displays the current date
Sharing & Collaboration
As we mentioned before, one of the advantages of online applications such as Google Spreadsheets is that they are designed to be collaborative—one of the key components of Web 2.0. With Google Docs, you can share your files with a select group of people or with the entire world. You can do this without having to send copies via e-mail or wondering what version of the document is being used.
You can specify the visibility of a document—accessible by anyone on the Internet, only those with the Web link to the document, or only those people to whom you explicitly grant access. You can also specify whether or not other people can edit the document. Finally, you can also share the link to your document via social media services such as Facebook and Twitter. If you do not have Excel and wish to access the Google version of our Simple Valuation Spreadsheet, we have made it accessible to everyone at this link: https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0Aii6M2NkxQuNdDBWVzJqWmZiRWJzNnE5NkwyWW5fYUE&hl=en.
You can explicitly share with up to 200 combined viewers and collaborators; however, you can also make your spreadsheet available to anyone, without having to specifically invite people to view it, by publishing it. Up to 50 people may edit and view a spreadsheet at any given time.
If you want to discuss a spreadsheet with a group of people, you can do so using the chat function that is built into Google Spreadsheets.
Also, if you are working on a project with a group of people, you don’t have to worry about multiple versions of a document floating around. Since your Google documents are stored on Google’s servers, everyone viewing the document is seeing the latest version. However, you can also revert back to an earlier version of a document.
Printing Google Spreadsheets is not as user-friendly as it is with Excel. Most disappointing is the inability to “shrink to fit” a worksheet to a single page. You can specify printing to letter or legal sizes, and can choose between portrait and landscape orientation.
Overall, we were very pleased with the ease of use and performance of Google Spreadsheets. While it is undoubtedly not as powerful as Microsoft Excel, it allowed us to recreate the Simple Valuation Spreadsheet and use some functions to help automate the data retrieval process. The ability to easily integrate Google Finance data is especially nice for those looking to generate spreadsheets for financial analysis. The fact that Google Docs is free is also a key benefit.
Zoho offers an extensive collection of online applications, many of them geared toward small business owners. The site offers several productivity apps similar to those found in Google Docs, including Sheet, its online spreadsheet application.
Zoho is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems and supports a number of browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. Be sure to have Java Script enabled, too. You first need to register at Zoho.com (www.zoho.com), which is free. If you already have a Google, Yahoo!, or Facebook account, you can use this login information to sign up with Zoho. With free registration you get 1G of free storage on the Zoho “cloud.” Upgrading to more storage is costlier than at Google: $36 a year for 5G of disk space and $132 a year for 25G.
Once you have logged in, go to the Zoho Sheet section to begin creating and using online spreadsheets (sheet.zoho.com).
Just like with Google Docs, you can import from a variety of spreadsheet formats, including Excel (.xls and .xlsx), OpenOffice Calcand comma-separated values . Once again, we were able to import our Simple Valuation Spreadsheet with no problems. All of the embedded functions carried over to the Zoho spreadsheet, and we only needed to make some minor formatting changes.
While Zoho offers functions that surpass those of Google Docs—built-in pivot table, conditional formatting support, built-in macro recording, one million maximum cells as opposed to the 200,000 cells offered by Google Spreadsheets, and more—linking spreadsheets to external data, especially financial data, was much more labor intensive. While Zoho offers several stock data–related functions, the only one we could integrate into our Simple Valuation Spreadsheet was current price, which uses this function:
- “symbol” represents the stock symbol of the stock or mutual fund you’re looking for; and
- “PRICE” represents current price.
Here is a link to the functions you can use with Zoho Sheet spreadsheets: sheet.zoho.com/functions.
You can integrate external data sources into your Zoho spreadsheets using the Link External Data feature. In this way, you can import CSV-formatted data from sources such as Yahoo! Finance.
Like Google Docs, Zoho allows you to share your files with a select group of people or make them public for everyone on the Internet. We have made our Simple Valuation Spreadsheet available to the public via this link: http://sheet.zoho.com/public/computerizedinvesting/simple-valuation-spreadsheet-1.
When you create a group to share a document, you can invite an unlimited number of people. You can also specify whether others can only view the document or whether they can also edit the document. Unfortunately, with a free subscription to Zoho, you cannot track the changes made to a document.
Online Excel Viewer
One unique and useful feature Zoho offers is its Online Excel Viewer. If you are trying to view an online spreadsheet, but don’t have a spreadsheet program installed on your computer, this utility allows you to view and manipulate the spreadsheet using Zoho Sheet.
For example, if you wish to view the Excel Simple Valuation Spreadsheet we discussed in this issue’s Spreadsheet Corner, you can use this link: http://sheet.zoho.com/view.do?url=http://www.aaii.com/files/ci/simplevaluation.xls.
When printing spreadsheets with Zoho, you have no options beyond your standard printer options. While our Simple Valuation Spreadsheet fit on a single page, having the ability to repeat columns, which is available with Google, would be useful.
For those looking to perform higher-level spreadsheet analysis, Zoho is about the most robust online spreadsheet application available. However, be prepared to spend some time sifting through the site’s Forums and FAQs if you get stuck on a certain feature. For many users, this will probably be a big turn-off. If you are only looking for a simple spreadsheet program, you are better off using Google Docs.
Unlike Google Docs and Zoho, which offer a suite of online productivity tools, EditGrid (www.editgrid.com) is exclusively an online spreadsheet service. The service offers two types of accounts: personal and business. Personal accounts are free, while business accounts cost $5 per user per month after a free 30-day trial period. According to EditGrid, the biggest differences between personal and business accounts are the lack of encryption and shared workspaces for personal users.
EditGrid will run on Windows, Linux and Mac and currently 10 browsers are supported, including Internet Explorer 7+, Safari 3+, Opera 9.0+ and Firefox. Like the other services, you need to enable Java Script in your browser.
Once you log in to your EditGrid account, you can create new spreadsheets or work with existing ones from the My Workspace dashboard. This interface, to us, was the easiest to navigate of the three services we examined for this article.
When you create a new spreadsheet you can either begin entering your formulas, or you can import an existing spreadsheet. Just like Google Docs and Zoho, EditGrid allows you to import a variety of spreadsheet formats—Excel, comma-separated values , OpenDocument ( , OpenOffice Calc , Gnumeric and Lotus 1-2-3. We were able to import our Simple Valuation Spreadsheet with all of the underlying formulas and most of the formatting intact.
EditGrid also lets you export spreadsheets you create, using the same import formats. It also has two utilities that allow you to integrate EditGrid spreadsheets with Microsoft Office and sync your spreadsheets between EditGrid’s servers and your desktop.
EditGrid Sync is a desktop utility that allows you to synchronize spreadsheets between your computer and EditGrid. Currently, the utility only supports backing up your spreadsheets from EditGrid, but the site claims that full syncing will be added in future updates.
EditGrid Excel Plus is a Microsoft Excel plug-in that allows you to open, save, publish, and sync EditGrid spreadsheets within your Excel program. The plug-in lets you bring real-time user edits and data into Excel as well as access and edit your EditGrid spreadsheets while you are offline.
Of the three services reviewed here, EditGrid is the closest to a full-function spreadsheet program. The website claims to have over twice the number of functions as Google Docs, including over 80 financial functions. For a full listing of the functions provided by EditGrid, follow this link: https://wiki.editgrid.com/display/helpcentre/Functions.
For more advanced users, EditGrid maintains a library of macros created by their staff as well as users. You can publish your own macros in this library and use macros from the library for your own spreadsheets.
Perhaps EditGrid’s most impressive feature is its free on-demand data functionality. EditGrid has partnered with a number of data sources, including World Factbook, Thomson Reuters, Xignite Financials (although we were not able to successfully retrieve data from this source), Trulia and Zillow, so you can pull in a variety of economic, financial and real estate data into your spreadsheets. For a complete listing of third-party data providers, follow this link: www.editgrid.com/data.
Financial data is available from Thomson Reuters and is by far more extensive than what is offered by Google and Zoho. There are almost 250 different data fields available from Thomson Reuters, including pricing, current financial data and historical financial data going back five fiscal years, and data is automatically updated within your spreadsheet. It was disappointing to discover that per share data was not available. The EditGrid version of our Simple Valuation Spreadsheet (the link is given below) has the formulas embedded to retrieve the necessary historical data from Thomson Reuters, as well as current pricing data.
EditGrid provides sample spreadsheets with all the available functions embedded, so you can easily transcribe these formulas into your own spreadsheets. This functionality alone sets EditGrid apart from the other two services in this article.
Sharing & Collaboration
Like Google Docs and Zoho, EditGrid allows you to share your spreadsheets with others and collaborate in real time. With EditGrid’s real-time update, multiple users can edit a spreadsheet simultaneously and the changes are synchronized in real time. As you are working on a spreadsheet with others, changes that are being made will flash in red within the worksheet. There is also a live chat function, so you can instant message with fellow collaborators.
EditGrid tracks the changes made to a spreadsheet so, if you want, you can revert back to an earlier version of a document. The revision tracker lets you see who made edits and when they were made, right down to individual cells of a spreadsheet.
You can also keep spreadsheets private if you want or limit the permissions on shared spreadsheets (read only, read/write, etc.). To access our Simple Valuation Spreadsheet through EditGrid, use this link: http://www.editgrid.com/aaiici/admin/Simple_Valuation_Spreadsheet.
EditGrid also has a utility that lets you view spreadsheet files without having a spreadsheet program installed on your PC. EditGrid Viewer supports Excel (, OpenDocument ( , OpenOffice Calc ( , Lotus 1-2-3 and comma-separated values formats.
Printing with EditGrid was the most flexible of the three services we discuss here, but I was still left wanting. Again, our valuation spreadsheet fit to a single page, but you cannot specify columns or rows to appear on each printed page. However, you can print a selection from a spreadsheet, something the other sites don’t offer.
In our opinion, EditGrid is the hands-down winner among these three online spreadsheet providers. Its strong data integration with Thomson Reuters, which allows you to pull up to five years of historical financial statement data, for free (for personal use), is more than enough to propel it to the top of the list. That, combined with its ease of use and collaboration functionality makes it an excellent choice for those looking to break free of software-based spreadsheets.
Online spreadsheet programs are a good way for you to build simple spreadsheets without having to buy and install spreadsheet software. While the functionality of these Web-based services is not as robust as what you would find with spreadsheet software, we have found that they can handle the needs of the typical user. In coming issues, we will delve more deeply into how you can use these services to automatically retrieve financial data and perform other time-saving tasks.