More Google Comments

May 21, 2007

Sometime around 8:30 am today that expanded menu bar that was screwing up iGoogle for me disappeared. A little while later I noticed the theme chooser. The images are a little too cutesy but I do like the color schemes in general.

In other news, I actually tried to use Google Spreadsheets today. Actually I did use it. I’ve had some very positive experiences with Google Docs. I find it perfect for what it is – a tool for real time cross-platform collaboration on simple documents. Of course YMMV depending on the makeup of your team, but it really met my needs.

A spreadsheet, however, is a totally different monster. I don’t know if anyone would have much use for real time cross-platform collaboration on a spreadsheet. I thought, though, that this would be a prospectively easy way to share access to a spreadsheet. Well, actually it is. But, it’s a really awful way to have to set up a spreadsheet. I just wanted to do a simple timesheet for our babysitter which my wife and I could fill in, and our babysitter could check and comment on. And that’s what I have. But it took a lot longer than it should have. For one thing, there’s no “fill down” option. Uff.

I’ve got what I wanted now, so I shouldn’t complain. I could have done this a bunch of other ways. A simple web interface would have taken no longer than this did. I’m sure there’s already a dozen Web 2.0 sites that would have given me pretty much exactly the sort of time tracking I wanted. I just had this weird desire to do it this way. Partially it’s because my wife is just somewhat more comfortable with Google. Otherwise, it’s kind of a strange choice for me.

I get spreadsheets. I see how they became such a driving force behind the spread of personal computing in offices. I’ve just never really needed them much, myself. I’m not doing all that much statistical analysis. For manageable data sets, I prefer CSV storage. I find this gives me the greatest flexibility – easy access from pretty much any scripting language, and equally easy importation into pretty much any application or database. For larger and more complex collections of information, I find databases surprisingly appropriate and effective.

My main uses for spreadsheets are opening other people’s files. For this, the best of programs is undoubtedly Gnumeric. I’m sure there are some files it would choke on, but I haven’t seen those. It doesn’t do pivot tables, oh well.

Anyway, back to the review. I imagine dealing with overly complex spreadsheets in Google would be as painful as setting up simple ones. But it should be a fine tool for simple data entry, so, just use Gnumeric to set it up and export it to Google. According to Google Spreadsheets help:

You can currently import a spreadsheet from the following file formats:

* .xls
* .ods
* .csv
* .txt
* .tsv
* .tsb

Of course, you’ll lose the formulas in most of these, but Gnumeric will save in any of them.

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