Microsoft Excel has been the world’s most popular spreadsheet software for over three decades. Unlike presentation software, Excel has features and tools for calculations and charts, which means you can use it to do anything from planning a family budget to keeping track of store inventory. In 2016, Microsoft stopped releasing discrete versions of Excel and started automatically updating the program through Windows Update. It is available as part of the Microsoft 365 subscription model. In this Microsoft Excel review, we take a look at where Microsoft Excel stands in today’s market and whether it’s still the best spreadsheet software for a small business.
Microsoft Excel: plans and prices
Microsoft Excel is available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. Excel is a software package in the Microsoft 365 suite that includes Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype.
You can access a limited online-only version of Microsoft Excel at office.com, although many of the features of the full product are missing. You can’t use SmartArt, WordArt, or macros in the online version, for example. But you can still collaborate with others in real time.
If you’re a teacher, student, or faculty member, you can get Office 365 Education for free by simply signing up with a valid school email address on the Microsoft website.
For the full desktop versions of the apps, you can get Microsoft 365 Personal, which costs $69.99 a year. A family account for two to six people costs $99.99/year.
Business plans that include all Office desktop apps start at $12.50/user/month. A $20-a-month plan adds device management and cyber threat detection, and enterprise versions add compliance capabilities.
Office Home and Business is available as a one-time purchase that includes desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The biggest downside to this option is that you don’t get continuous updates, so you may need to repurchase Office again in the future if there are any major updates. Office Home and Business also does not include web versions of the software, online file storage, or support for Microsoft Teams meetings.
Microsoft Excel: features
With Microsoft Excel, you enter and manage data in the form of numbers, text, and graphs in a grid format, just like you would with any spreadsheet. But Excel allows you to process more data at once than competitors like Google Sheets. While Sheets can only handle around 5 million cells, in Excel, it is possible to work with 17 billion cells. Because Excel makes better use of your computer’s processing power, it’s fast even when working with large data sets and performing complex calculations.
Another attraction of Excel is its long list of built-in functions. There are over 450 functions to manipulate and display data. With macros, you can extend this functionality almost indefinitely by writing your own VBA code. Online spreadsheet software lacks this power and versatility.
Excel also has great data visualization tools. With charts, conditional formatting, pivot tables, images, shapes, icons, maps, sparklines, and SmartArt, you can create compelling representations of your data that accurately summarize your calculations.
Microsoft Excel: interface and in use
The Excel user interface can be a bit overwhelming for new users. So many features have been added over the years that it’s hard to know where to start. To combat this, Microsoft has added an interactive introductory tour that walks you through creating your first formula, pivot table, and chart. If you prefer, the ribbon menu at the top of the interface can be hidden to make Excel look a bit more like a web app.
Microsoft has added some features for co-authoring, but they’re not as streamlined as competitors like Google Sheets, which have online collaboration built into their DNA. You can see changes in real time and chat with others within the Excel interface, but only if everyone has a Microsoft 365 subscription. Often the people you want to collaborate with don’t have the latest version of Excel, so co-authoring doesn’t work.
Microsoft Excel: support
Microsoft’s website is packed with resources for getting the most out of Excel and the other Office applications. There is an official Excel tech community for complex queries and a community forum. The app itself has hundreds of helpful guides built into the features of the software. These include videos that take you step by step through the use of the features.
Microsoft also has phone and live chat support. Although we had to wait a few minutes to speak to someone via live chat, the support we received was courteous and the agent was knowledgeable.
Google Docs is one of the best alternatives to Microsoft Office and Google Sheets is a direct competitor to Microsoft Excel. Although there is a paid version as part of Google Workspace (formerly G Suite), the average user will get by just fine with the free version of Google Sheets. Although it doesn’t have the range of features, functionality, and advanced visualization tools of Microsoft Excel, collaboration is relatively easy and free.
If you prefer a desktop application that you can use offline, LibreOffice is a free Office software suite with a spreadsheet application called LibreOffice Calc. It’s not as polished as Microsoft Excel and doesn’t support VBA macros, but it’s the Powerful enough for most tasks.