Spreadsheets are complex. This is why most people in the world use Microsoft Excel. Microsoft has, quite literally, been perfecting spreadsheets for 30+ years. There are alternatives — Google Sheets, for example — but the alternatives, no matter how much investment in time and money they have behind them, don’t compare to Excel. So, it was with great naiveté that I set out to include secure spreadsheets within the Graphite suite of tools.
When I first built Graphite, it was going to be a word processing app for me. Then, it was going to be a word processing app for others. Then, it became a productivity suite with the introduction of Graphite Sheets. While, I don’t regret turning Graphite into a productivity suite, I do regret building Sheets.
I have never been passionate about spreadsheets. I’ve used them intensely over the years, but there has never been a time in my life where I open a spreadsheet and say to myself, “Hell yes, I can’t wait to start typing numbers and formulas into cells.” That’s the difference between Graphite Docs and Graphite Sheets. I do open Graphite Docs and get excited to type. And before I built Graphite, I had that same excitement when I opened Word or Google Docs or Medium.
But, as most founders and developers know, sometimes you have to build things you’re not passionate about. So, I did the best I could with Graphite Sheets. Without a full engineering team dedicated to the effort, I had to rely on as many open source solutions as possible, eventually landing on Handsontable to power the spreadsheet engine. And Handsontable is great. It makes building a basic spreadsheet easy. However, I quickly realized that building anything powerful enough to serve the needs of daily Excel users would not only be improbable, it would be impossible.
In the end, Graphite Sheets provided some basic spreadsheet functionality, which is good. But it also undermined the rest of the product, which, of course, is bad. When I say it undermined the rest of the product, I mean it was clearly inferior. Someone using Graphite Docs expects a certain experience, and then when they try Sheets, they are significantly disappointed. There’s a cost associated with that type of experience. And that’s not a cost I’m willing to pay anymore.
So, what’s this actually mean for the product? Well, Graphite Sheets will continue to be operational as it is today until the release of Graphite V2. I don’t yet have timetable for that release, but it should be in the next month or so. When V2 ships, all of your existing Graphite Sheets will be accessible. You’ll be able to export your data and view your data. But you will not be able to create new spreadsheets. New users will not even see the option to access Sheets.
But don’t fret. Graphite is not turning its back on one of the most crucial elements of business productivity. Instead, I will be building out tighter support for Excel. Ideally, you will be able to work in Excel just like you do today, save your files to a folder on your computer that syncs with Graphite Vault, and have full, encrypted backups in Graphite. From there, you’ll be able to share encrypted copies of your spreadsheets and even view the entire Excel file in the browser.
To me, this is a far superior solution to trying to replace Excel. Excel, as a standalone application on your computer, is powerful and secure. But when you go to share files with others, that’s where the security gaps widen. Graphite can plug those gaps and make for a simple, secure collaborative experience. All without trying to rebuild a complex piece of software that has a 30-year head start and 1,000s of engineers backing it.
Thank you to everyone who has used Graphite Sheets and provided feedback over the last year. I hope you’ll find that by pivoting away from Sheets, Graphite as a product will get even better.