Optimizing Google

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As announced in their latest blog post, Google has just released an optimization feature for their online spreadsheets (which, of course, are part of Google Docs). With this new feature, linear optimization problems can be solved easily. This is a great feature and makes online spreadsheets even more Excel-like and usable. Here are some of the features:

  • Minimization or maximization of target cell, but no target value optimization. TIP: Minimize the difference to a target value if you need this.
  • Select (unlimited?) cells as design variables. Restriction to positive values is possible.
  • Add (unlimited?) constraints. These can be “<=”, “=” or “>=”. Since the dialog has no scroll function, the number of constraints is apparently limited by the screen height.
  • Due to the nature of the optimization algorithm, only linear problems can be computed. This means that formulas may not contain power functions or decision-based formulas (IF-THEN).

I haven’t tried this feature out yet on a real problem, but my main performance question would be whether the calculation uses Javascript in the local browser (likely) or uses Google’s server resources, which may speed things up  on a large problem.

For more help and information on this feature, look at the relevant Help page. And if you need an optimization solution for Excel spreadsheets that is based on Genetic Algorithms, check out my handy tool.