Google Unveils New, Improved Version of Its Sheets Spreadsheets

The new Sheets product is faster, works offline and supports larger data sets, according to Google.

Google Sheets

Google has revamped its Sheets spreadsheet application, making it speedier, giving it the ability to handle larger data sets and giving it offline capabilities that make it more flexible for users.

The updated version of Sheets was announced recently by Zach Lloyd, a Google software engineer, in a post on the Google Drive Blog.

"Whether you're crunching big data or tracking your family budget, you don't want to waste time waiting for files to load or re-doing edits that were lost because your Internet connection dropped," wrote Lloyd. "You can now get more done by switching to the new version of Google Sheets. It's faster, supports larger spreadsheets, has a number of new features, and works offline."

Those updates will be helpful for users, he wrote, because the new version supports millions of cells, which "kicks many of the old size and complexity limits to the curb" compared with the earlier versions. "Scrolling, loading and calculation are all snappier, even in more complex spreadsheets," he added.

Also new is a unique "filter views" capability, which allows users to quickly name, save and share different views of their data, wrote Lloyd. "This comes in handy when you're collaborating so you can sort a spreadsheet without affecting how others see it."

Another improvement is that the new Sheets application is easier to set up and use for performing calculations, whether users are new to spreadsheets or are experts at running complex calculations, according to Lloyd. "New function help and examples guide you as you type, and error highlighting and coloring make it easy to spot and fix mistakes."

In addition, text now automatically flows into empty adjacent cells, speeding up data entry and doing away with the need for manual merges, he wrote. "With the improved conditional formatting, you can add rules to change the colors and styles of cells in your spreadsheet based on custom formulas."

For Sheets users who don't have access to an Internet connection, the new version provides the helpful capability to work offline using the Chrome Web browser until an Internet connection is available. "You shouldn't have to think about whether you have a WiFi connection when you want to work," wrote Lloyd. "So just like Google Docs and Slides, you can now make edits to Sheets offline. When you reconnect to the Internet, your edits will automatically sync. If you've edited Docs or Slides offline in the past, then you're already set up to edit Sheets offline. If not, follow these one-time instructions for setting up offline in Chrome."

To use the new version of Sheets, users must turn on the new Sheets by checking the "Try the new Google Sheets" box in Google Drive settings, according to Lloyd. "From then on, all new spreadsheets you create will work offline and include these new features. We'll be adding a small list of missing features in the coming months, so if you rely on any of them, you may want to wait a little longer before opting in."

In November, Google announced that it will be changing the user sign-in process for Google Apps in 2014. The move comes as Google moves to a consistent look for the sign-in pages for all of the apps. That also means that users will be losing the ability to customize their Google Apps sign-in pages with their logos and other branding information.

More details of the coming changes will be arriving in the next few months, according to Google. The changes will affect users of Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government.

Earlier in November, Google Apps announced that it will soon be ending its support for Apps on Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 browser as it transitions users to the two latest versions of IE, Versions 10 and 11. That means that Apps users who are still browsing with IE9 will have to upgrade soon to IE10 or 11 to be able to continue to access and work on their files using Google Apps. Those upcoming changes affect users of Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government, according to Google. Google Apps only supports the latest two versions of supported Web browsers.

The last time that Google Apps made a similar transition was in September 2012, when IE8 users had to make the same transition to either IE9 or IE10 as Google Apps dropped support for the IE8 version of the browser, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

The Google Apps policy of supporting only the latest browsers began in June 2011 as big changes were beginning to arrive from new Web standards, such as HTML5. Newer, modern browser versions support many new capabilities that are not possible using older, outdated browsers, according to Google.

In October, Google unveiled a new feature that allows Google Docs users to share files with others who are not using Google accounts. The new capability allows guest Docs users who are not signed in using a Google account to be able to view a file, but not make changes or edits, according to Google. The new feature permits, for the first time, users to share such documents with others who may not have their own Google accounts. Previously, users could only view such files if they were also logged into their Google accounts. Administrators and Google Docs users who already have file-sharing permissions can change the sharing settings as desired. The new file-sharing feature is available for users of Google Apps and Google Apps for Business, Education and Government, according to Google.

In December 2012, Google dropped its then-free Google Apps for Business services. Google made the move after deciding that most business users were quickly outgrowing it and signing up for paid accounts that offered additional services. The paid Google Apps for Business accounts started in 2007 when Google began charging $50 per user annually, a fee that provided larger inbox mail storage, access to Google APIs to allow businesses to build custom apps and other extra services. Google also added apps versions aimed at governments, universities and schools.

In October 2012, Google added some key benefits—phone and email support—for paying customers of its Google Apps services when they are accessed through Google's Chrome Web browser. That means that Google Apps for Business, Education and Government customers can get direct support on Chrome installation, functionality, security, browser policy settings and Google Apps interoperability for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Customers with free Google Apps accounts are not eligible for phone or email support, but can continue to use Google's free online help services and forums.