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Quip is taking another swing at Excel with better spreadsheet features

Quip, a Silicon Valley startup that's taking on the giants of the productivity software market, announced a major update to its spreadsheet capabilities Wednesday that's aimed at bringing its service more in line with Microsoft Excel. 

The service's spreadsheets now include features like the ability to merge cells, validate data and filter information in a sheet. With this update, users can also insert spreadsheets into documents so data and commentary can reside in the same place. It's all tied together with Quip's signature chat feature, which lets users discuss what's going on inside a spreadsheet while they're working on it together. 

These updates are key to helping Quip compete with its biggest rivals in the cloud productivity suite space: Microsoft's Office 365 and Google Apps for Work. Those two services have their own spreadsheet applications, and this update makes Quip's upstart offering more appealing to people who have richer spreadsheet needs. 

Quip is hoping that its approach to productivity, with a focus on team collaboration and conversation, will lead to its suite gaining broader adoption. 

"The reason why companies choose to use Quip is because of our deeply integrated communication. It means that they can reduce email and have teams feel like they're working together more intimately," Quip co-founder and CEO Bret Taylor said in an interview. "But at the same time, there is sort of a threshold of feature parity we need to reach to just do your job, to have that spreadsheet function you depend on work in your finance document." 

By inserting spreadsheets into documents, users can include numbers in the same document that are updated in real time. That means the executive summary of a report can have the same data in a spreadsheet table and in a paragraph, because they're linked together. 

Users can also add checkboxes to spreadsheets, which can help in building spreadsheets that serve as project management tools. That's well targeted to the audience for Quip, which isn't hardcore spreadsheet users. 

Taylor doesn't expect Quip to replace Excel for power users like finance workers. But these additions are supposed to improve Quip for other employees who don't need all of the extreme features of Excel. Taylor estimates they make up 80 percent to 90 percent of the users in a company.

Of course, Quip's competitors aren't standing still. Microsoft and Google both are trying to improve collaboration and data analysis in their own products. 

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