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Joe Wainer
Joe WainerUpdated 9 days ago

Microsoft’s powerful spreadsheet and data management program

Microsoft Excel is the most popular spreadsheet program on the market and an essential tool to organize, manipulate and analyze all kinds of data. You can download Excel as a standalone program, as part of the Office productivity suite or through the Microsoft 365 subscription service. Even though there are very similar free alternatives available such as Google Sheets or Zoho Sheet, Excel is still the must-use software for data analysis, managing lists and business performance reporting

While Excel’s main forte is organizing large amounts of data, it also brings useful features to manipulate, interpret and present information in a clear and visual way. Just use its wide selection of formulas and calculations and in a blink of an eye you can convert your data into all kinds of charts, graphs and data analysis visualizations. This makes it the perfect ally for businesses, researchers and enterprises around the world.

What is Microsoft Excel used for?

MS Excel is a powerful and versatile tool to store and manipulate data and can be used for a wide range of applications. These are Excel’s main uses:

  • Data storage and management - Thanks to its columns and rows of cells, Excel is the perfect tool to enter, edit and organize all kinds of information. 
  • Data analysis - Excel includes a wide array of tools that lets you perform both basic and advanced arithmetic operations, such as sums, averages or statistical measures. 
  • Data visualization - One of Excel’s most interesting features is its ability to create charts and graphics of any stored data. This is very helpful to visualize reports and also to communicate them in an easily understood format.
  • Financial analysis - Excel simplifies business processes like creating budgets or forecasting financial results.
  • Project management - Keep track of any project, task or event thanks to Excel’s ability to create Gantt charts in just a few seconds.

What are Excel’s key features?

Microsoft Excel is very powerful software that will let you manipulate any kind of data you store in its spreadsheets. From basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc.) to more advanced functions like LET, COS or MAX/MIN, Excel has you covered. Apart from that, the software will let you visualize these results in graphs and charts, making them more accessible to any audience.

Excel also brings some interesting features that will let you work with data in a faster and more productive way. You will be able to find specific sets of results in seconds thanks to its filters and summarize them in pivot tables. Another interesting feature is that Excel lets you link cells, making it possible to work with data from different sheets and workbooks. Also, you can change the layout and format of your columns and rows, as well as add a color code to them. This makes it easy to spot any data you’re looking for within seconds.

If you tend to have to work with large amounts of data, Excel has you covered. The program lets you import from other media, such as databases, text files and even web APIs. This speeds up considerably the process of creating a spreadsheet. You can also export your results in PDF or HTML formats, or upload them directly to OneDrive or Sharepoint, making it very easy to collaborate and share your results with others.

What’s new in Microsoft Excel 2021?

With the arrival of Windows 11 , Microsoft Excel received a new version with new tools and features. These new features focus mainly on collaboration with other team members. If you’re thinking of updating, we recommend you check this list before you download Excel. In addition to a completely revamped interface, the 2021 version of the program includes the following:

  • Co-authoring - You and your colleagues can work on the same Excel workbook in real-time.
  • Know who’s looking at your workbook - Shows who’s online working on your workbook.
  • Improved commenting system - You can now edit, delete or resolve comment threads.
  • XLOOKUP function - Search for data in a table or range by row or column. This is in contrast to VLOOKUP which only searches vertically. It can return a value from the left or the right when there is a match, as opposed to VLOOKUP, which can only return values from the right.
  • LET function - Assigns names to calculation results.
  • Dynamic arrays - Write one formula to get an array of values. Adds six new functions: : FILTER, SORT, SORTBY, UNIQUE, SEQUENCE, and RANDARRAY.
  • XMATCH function - Find an item’s relative position in an array or range of cells.
  • Sheet views - Lets you create custom views in a worksheet.
  • Support for OpenDocument format - Now you can use OpenDocument format (ODF) 1.3 files.

How does Microsoft Excel work?

Excel is a powerful spreadsheet application, and while it is very intuitive for basic functions, it has a steep learning curve to learn to apply the most advanced ones. The program shows all data in cells organized in a grid of rows and columns. To interact with the data, the user needs to type out formulas that will let them perform all types of calculations as well as manipulate data from other cells or ranges of cells. While some of these functions are basic, some can be extremely complex, for that reason it is always a good idea to refer to a beginners guide before venturing to Excel.

Once you become familiar with using Excel, you will be able to use different equations and formulas to process large amounts of data. A few prominent functions that most users proficient in the spreadsheet software will know include VLOOKUP, CONCATENATE and IFERROR, as well as features such as Pivot Tables, Remove Duplicates and Text to Columns

What are the pros and cons of Microsoft Excel?

As you know by now, Microsoft Excel is an excellent tool to gather and analyze all types of data. While it’s one of the most used programs in businesses around the world, it’s not perfect and has some limitations. There are both advantages and disadvantages to using Excel. These are the main ones:

Advantages:

  • Powerful and Versatile - Excel can be used to store, organize, analyze and manipulate all kinds of data, including numbers, text or dates. It can also be used to visualize the results through graphs and charts.
  • Customization - Users are able to change the layout and the formatting of the cells, rows and columns to customize their spreadsheets from top to toe.
  • Collaboration - Excel lets several users work on the same spreadsheet and workbook at the same time.
  • Compatibility - The program is widely used and its files are compatible with most productivity tools.

Disadvantages:

  • Steep learning curve - Excel is a very complex application to master and it can be overwhelming to new users.
  • Limited scalability - The program slows down noticeably while working on very large data sets.
  • Prone to human errors - Excel can sometimes show incorrect results, since it relies on users to insert data and functions correctly.

Can I download Microsoft Excel for free?

No, you can’t. Excel is a paid program and to download it, you’ll need to buy it first. Excel comes in three different varieties: As a standalone program, as part of the Microsoft Office productivity suite or as part of the Microsoft 365 subscription service. Each option has its pros and cons. 

If you just want to use Excel, you should opt for its standalone program. It’s the most affordable option of the three and its license key will let you download and use Excel as many times as you want. 

If you think that you might use Word or another of Microsoft’s productivity programs, you should choose Office. It might be more expensive but its products are definitely worth it. 

Finally, if you prefer to work on the go or use different devices to access your files, you should get a Microsoft 365 subscription. This is the best choice if you aim to collaborate with other users and teams online.

Does this mean you won’t be able to use Excel for free? Not at all. You can still use a Lite version of Excel that is available for free online from the official Offce website. Once you get there, simply log in using your Microsoft account and start using Excel for free. You should know however that it’s a very basic version of the spreadsheet program, so some of its more advanced functions and features are unavailable.

The best tool to manage all your data

Microsoft Excel is the most powerful spreadsheet program on the market. Since its launch, it’s been a household name in the world of data management and analysis, becoming a favorite among businesses and enterprises. Its steep learning curve might be discouraging for beginners, but it offers many basic features that are very intuitive to use. With the arrival of the 2021 version, the program just got better, focusing most of its new features on making collaboration even easier. Overall, Excel is an essential tool for anyone working with data or who simply wants to improve their productivity.

Excel for insightful spreadsheets – anytime, virtually anywhere, and with anyone

A modern take on Excel with new built-in tools help you get more out of your data.

  • Enhanced by intelligence, Excel learns your patterns, organizing your data to save you time.
  • Create spreadsheets with ease from templates or on your own, and perform calculations with modern formulas.
  • New charts and graphs help you present your data in compelling ways, with formatting, sparklines, and tables to better understand your data.

Get premium versions of Excel and other Office apps like Word and PowerPoint by subscribing to Office 365. With Office 365 you'll get great Excel features like real-time collaboration. Plus, you'll receive exclusive, new features every month ensuring you're always up-to-date.

PROS

  • Lets you manage and analyze large bulks of data
  • Easily creates graphs and charts
  • Offers many useful functions
  • Lets users collaborate online
  • Saves to the cloud

CONS

  • Steep learning curve

Also available in other platforms

Program available in other languages



User reviews about Microsoft Excel

  • storyseen

    by storyseen

    I purchased MS office last year. tghere is no way I can find out what version I have. In addition, I've learned that it is impossible to auto save or  More

  • Dipak Dhavale

    by Dipak Dhavale

    working accounting business statement and other education editing system

  • Kingsley Arnold

    by Kingsley Arnold

    I NEED LESS COMPLEX SOFTWARE.
    i have windows 10 i need excel from windows 7
    it is so much easier to use my in come is thru the A.S.X
     More

  • Anonymous

    by Anonymous

    excellent data analyst.
    it is a best tool to analysis the data and easy to store them in a very well mannered way.
    Pros: easy
    Cons:  More

  • Anonymous

    by Anonymous

    so nice version.
    microsoft excel 2013 is a user friendly version and it is very useful
    Pros: sum in the excel
    formula bar
    Cons: More

  • Anonymous

    by Anonymous

    Arbitrary UI changes decrease UX.
    This version sucks. Typical Microsoft arbitrary changes that decrease ease of use for no apparent reason. Ap More


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