The Rise of HTML Spreadsheets: Excel Killers or Perfect Complements?


In last years Online Spreadsheets (and Office applications in general) become very popular and two of the biggest players in IT industry, Microsoft (with Office 365) and Google (with Google Spreadsheets), are now successfully providing their own solution as SaaS.

A short history

During the 90’s, PCs with interesting hardware capabilities started to be widely present on the desktops of our offices, schools and homes. At the end of 1998 the Market Share of 32-bit MS Windows operating systems was 85,6% and most of these PCs were mainly used with Microsoft Office applications.

In this context, Excel easily become in short time the “killer application” for several purposes, from Personal Budgeting, to Accounting and Financial Management. It is very common to find small databases implemented on top of it (much simpler to use in comparison with Microsoft Access!)

That was the “perfect” personal productivity application: everyone was able to create a complex table from scratch, to add formulas and amazing charts, and, as days went by, Excel was enhanced with very interesting features: macros, pivoting, ability to connect to external data sources, and OLE automation that allowed it to be integrated with other Windows applications.

But all that happened in the 90s, when:

  • 'device' was synonymous of  'desktop' or 'laptop PC' (and, generally speaking, a 'Wintel'
  • “Collaboration” meant, more or less, storing documents, on a shared folder on the company network with proper access rights, or emailing back and forth.
  • “Internet” was synonymous of “World Wide Web” and the most common collaborative usage of the network was just sending e-mails.

The next decade, four factors has radically changed this scenario:

  • rise of Web 2.0, with increasing HTML5 support on browsers,
  • dramatic increase of always-connected devices with different capabilities (in terms of memory, screen size, availability of keyboard, touch screen or mouse) and battery duration,
  • ownership of multiple devices per user (mobile phone, PC, tablet) that had to be synchronized with the same data and had to have same or similar applications installed,
  • rise of Cloud-Based storage and SaaS.

Google made its first release of Google Spreadsheet available on 2006, which was the first big SaaS service of this kind, and it represented was the turning point of the history of Spreadsheet: now Sheets became collaborative and available anytime and anywhere. After a few years Microsoft answered to Google with the release of Office Web Apps, the online version of Microsoft Office, in 2010.

MS Excel vs Web Spreadsheets

Advantages of Web HTML5 spreadsheets are:

  • zero footprint
  • compatible with most browsers and Operating System
  • compatible with mobile devices
  • fully integrated with Cloud Storage
  • less TCO

Disadvantages are:

  • features lacking for advanced users and for financial applications
  • poor or missing support for macros and add-ins as compared with MS Office VBA and VSTO add-ins
  • slower performance
  • generally, internet connection is required1
  • security of data flowing across the Internet

In addition, Microsoft and Google do not distribute their Spreadsheet in an embeddable version which could be integrated in 3rd party web application, and they always require access to their Cloud Services.

In such a situation it’s clear that Web-based Spreadsheets are perfect for standard functionalities: to browse existing sheets and data or to create or modify simple ones. On the other hand, the design of complex workbooks, the data production process, the integration with 3rd party applications and data sources are still an Excel prerogative.

And Tagetik?

Tagetik 5 embeds a proprietary implementation of a pure HTML5 Spreadsheet. Its main purpose is:

  • consuming Data Entry Forms
  • browsing of existing forms


So is Tagetik going to drop Excel integration

The answer is NO. Financial applications are generally too complex to run properly on online applications: they usually exploit financial addins, they require integration with external data sources, integration with CDM and batch applications and a strong control of layout and formatting, which is hard to obtain on web applications. However, an embedded Spreadsheet, which is available on all platforms and all devices, is now a “must” for modern financial applications.


Why a proprietary Spreadsheet?

Right now, Microsoft and Google do not allow to embed their Spreadsheet engine in “local” third party application but instead run these application exclusively on their own cloud.

In addition, these vendors still do not provide full programming capabilities (like VBA or .NET on Excel) for two main reasons:

  • Security: 3rd party scripts can run on vendor’s cloud (Google) or on client’s browser (Google and Microsoft) and they cannot have access of all resources of the user machine.
  • “App” approach: add-ins that can be developed on these platform are “App-oriented”: they are intended to add very small functionalities, to be downloadable from a Marketplace and immediately usable without training, manuals or initial configuration. This  not suitable for very complex addins or full featured client like Tagetik Excel Reporting.

The possibility to integrate Tagetik with online Spreadsheet services (like Microsoft and Google) will be the challenge in the near future and will greatly depend on the evolution and the success in the market of this kind of services.

What are your thoughts? Does your organization use online spreadsheets?


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[1] Google Spreadsheets allows offline access by installing Google Drive and Google ChromE 

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