Is Excel the best spreadsheet?

Table of Contents

Microsoft Excel is the most renowned and widely used spreadsheet, which makes it a popular and dominant option.
You can use Excel for any kind of work and from any location. Thanks to its numerous features and tools, excel is versatile and easy to use.
However, with increasing demand for spreadsheets, alternatives like Google sheets, Lotus Symphony, OpenOffice, iWork Numbers, and LibreOffice are gaining traction.
Spreadsheets are essential in sorting, arranging, and calculating numerical data. Also called a worksheet, a spreadsheet is, ideally, a file of rows and columns with the unique ability to calculate values mathematical formula.
In this write-up, we look at details of excel and some of its alternatives.
Read on.

Is Excel the best spreadsheet

Microsoft Excel

In 1990 Microsoft excel was made available as part of the Microsoft Office suite. That makes it an industry standard as far as spreadsheet software is concerned. 

Currently, you can get excel in two ways:

  • First, as on-premise software, you can buy and install a one-off payment as part of the Office.
  • Second, you can get excel as a cloud-based, where you’ll be paying monthly as part of Office 365.

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Most people can deal with Excel’s basic functionalities, such as calculating formulas, extrapolating trends, and working with data sets. Besides, they can produce charts to clarify data sets, and also filter and sort data.

However, the latest Excel version comes with lots of powerful and advanced features, making it much easier to carry out operations.

The impressive thing about Excel is that it is available on multiple platforms – Windows, Mac computer, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. On each of these platforms, it allows users to create and edit spreadsheets easily.

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What other things make MS Excel a better spreadsheet?

  • Massive cell count: The cell count in Excel stands at 17,179,869,184. No other spreadsheet software matches this enormous number.
  • User-friendly interface: Excel has an easy to use interface. But what makes excel reputable than its alternatives is the massive range of advanced filters, which help you sift through massive data sets effortlessly. 
  • Allows easy customization: you can customize the Quick Access toolbar by pinning your most-used functions. 
  • Multiple tools: There a host of tools in Excel that speed up the functioning of this software. For instance, Flash Fill detects what you are trying to do and predicts the outcome. This allows you to fill data with ease, meaning you can complete a task quickly. Another handy tool is the Quick Analysis tool, which lets you convert data into a chart or table in two steps or less.

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Excel file extensions

Excel supports various file formats, which you can access through File and then Save As. However, the default format for saving Microsoft Excel spreadsheets is .xlsx. 

The dialog box after clicking Save As displays an array of formats. These formats depend on the active sheet – is sit a chart or a normal worksheet?  

But Excel allows you to open files, which were created in other file formats. This can be in a previous Excel version or another program. Just click File> Open.

In case it is a workbook in Excel 97-2003, it’ll automatically open via Compatibility Mode. Take advantage of the latest excel, i.e., 2010 and later versions, and save the workbook to an Excel 2010 or that particular version’s file format. 

But if you don’t want to go that way, you can continue working via Compatibility Mode. Actually, the mode maintains the pioneering file format. 

The file formats available include: 

Extension Name Description 
.csvCSV (Comma-separated values)Compatible with Multiple spreadsheet applications. Data rows appear as lines within text files and have columnar breaks bounded by a coma.
.dbfDBF 3, DBF 4A native database file format of DBASE III and IV.
.htm, .htmlHTMLHas data formatted in HTML
.difData interchange formatAllows saving a one-page spreadsheet only. 
.mht, .mhtmlSingle-page HTMLHTML-formatted single page data.
.pdfPDF, i.e., Portable Data FormatA format created by Adobe, and it is an industry-standard
.odsOpenDocument SpreadsheetAn open-source format, which word processors like OpenOffice and LibreOffice support.
.prnSpace-delimited formatted textSimilar to CSV and it supports text formatting. Lotus creates it, and it supports only a single sheet.
.txt Tab-delimitedIt’s similar to CSV – uses a tab as the delimiter character. Besides, its stores Unicode-encoded single-page spreadsheets
.slkSYLK Symbolic Link Supports a single sheet only.
.xlaExcel Add-inSupports File for Visual Basic VBA, and it is compatible with Excel 95-2003.
.xls Excel Workbook-deprecatedA native Excel file format for versions 97-2003.
.xlamExcel Add-in with MacrosXML-based format that is compatible with Excel 2007 and 2013-2019. Besides, it supports VBA projects and Excel 4.0 macros.
.xpsOpenXML Paper SpecificationAn open-source document format similar to PDF.
.xlsbExcel Binary WorkbookA fast load-and-save format, which is compatible with Excel 2007-2019. It supports VBA projects and Excel 4.0 macros.
.xlsxExcel WorkbookA native Excel file format for Excel versions 2007-2019. It supports “ISO Strict” formatting but does not support macros.
.xlsmExcel Workbook with MacrosXML-based format is compatible with Excel 2007-2019. Supports VBA and Excel 4.0 macros.
.xltDeprecated Excel TemplateSupports Excel 97-2003
.xltxExcel TemplateExcel template format, Excel 2007-2019.
.xmlXML DataSpreadsheet data exported as XML.
.xlwExcel Workbook OnlySaves worksheets, chart sheets, and macro sheets only. It won’t save spreadsheets. Compatible with Excel 2013-2019.

File formats not supported in Excel

Format of fileExtension type identifier of Clipboard
WK1, FM3, WK2, FMT, WK3, WK4.wks, .wk1, .wk2, .wk4,  .wk3,All Lotus 1-2-3 files
WB1, WB3.wb1, .wb3Quattro Pro 5.0 and 7.0 for Windows.
Excel Chart.xlc2.0, 3.0, & 2.x file
MS Works.wksMS Works file format
WQ1.wq1MS-DOS Quattro Pro file format

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Is it possible to open or view unsupported formats in Excel?

Some options can help you open or view such files. You can try the below options: 

  • Save the document in a format that a different program supports. After that, export the document into a format, which Excel supports.
  • Find file format converters on the internet and try to convert the unsupported File you have.

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What are the different versions of Excel?

There are several Microsoft Excel versions for Windows and Mac.

Windows version Mac version 
Excel 2019 – 2018 release Excel 2019 – 2018 version 
Office 365 and Excel 2016 – 2016 release Excel 2016 – 2016 release 
Excel 2013 – 2013 releaseExcel 2011 – 2011 release 
Excel 2010 – 2010 releaseExcel 2008 – 2008 release 
Excel 2007 – 2007 releaseExcel 2004 – 2004 release 
Excel 2003 – 2003 releaseExcel 2001 – 2001 release 
Excel 2002 – 2002 releaseExcel 2000 – 2000 release 
Excel 2000 – 2000 releaseExcel 98 – 1998 release 
Excel 97 – 1997 releaseExcel 5.0 – 1993 release 
Excel 95 – 1995 releaseExcel 4.0 – 1992 release 
Excel 5.0 – 1993 releaseExcel 3.0 – 1990 release 
Excel 4.0 – 1992 releaseExcel 2.2 – 1989 release 
Excel 3.0 – 1990 releaseExcel 1.5 – 1988 release 
Excel 2.0 – 1987 release Excel 1  – released in 1985


The first spreadsheet program was Lotus 1-2-3 and VisiCalc. But the creation of Excel drove these former market leaders into IBM at distress prices and eventually out of business. 

Since then (the Nineties), Excel has become a gold standard, thanks to the combination of powerful features, including Windows compatibility, VBA programmability, and much faster recalculation.

 Did you know that Microsoft has over 95% market share for desktop spreadsheet software?

That’s fascinating value despite the stiff competition it gets from other key players. Typically, the competitors offer lower prices but with a much lower set of features.  

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Must-have features of Excel

At a basic level, Excel offers the following features:


Filters let you explore data quickly as it hides data that isn’t of interest. As an example, should you be searching for a specific term, e.g., Cow, Filters will bring out the term in all entries while hiding the rest.

However, the modern Excel version allows you to filter numerical value, e.g., greater than or equal to 20%. Besides, it will enable you to filter a combination of entities.  

There are two commands for filtering ranges: 

  • AutoFilter – includes a filter by the selection, for simple criteria. 
  • Advanced Filter – ideal for more complex criteria

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Index-matching is a combination of Excel functions. Typically, it allows you to locate a vast table value and return the desired value in that table. This makes Excel flexible and hence a more powerful tool. 

For instance, if you have 5,000 employees in a spreadsheet with a lot of information such as salary, line manager, age, email, etc., but you need only 10 of them. Index-match can look up for them, but you have to specify by using specific details like employee numbers or emails.

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Data Sorting

Sorting data is simply the arrangement of data in a logical order. With MS Excel, you can sort data in either ascending or descending order.

Flash Fill

Flash Fill allows you to automatically fill your data in Excel when it senses a particular pattern. This feature was incorporated in Excel in 2013, but it was also possible in Pre-2013 but entirely relied on a combination of excel functions. So it was slower.  

Here is what it means: 

If, for instance, you have two columns of names and you want to create email addresses for each, create an email address for the first row. Excel will understand what you are doing and will automatically work out for the rest.

Built-in formulae

Excel has lots of formulae to help you accomplish almost any calculation. There are formulae for sum, average, standard deviation, minimum, etc. 

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Print Optimisation

You can optimize your printing to get what you really need, keeping in mind that printing in excel isn’t easy.

You can optimize using print preview components, fit to one page, print selection, print headers, adjust margins, portrait/landscape, and spreadsheet design.

Makes edits the result automatically

If you make changes to entries in any column or raw, excel will automatically edit results to include the new values you’ve just added. 

Formula Auditing

Formulae auditing allows excel users to display the relationship between cells and formula graphically. Besides, it lets them trace the relationship between and formulas with blue arrows.

Users can trace cells providing data to a specific cell (precedents) or cells depending on values on a particular cell (dependents)

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Find and Replace Command

Excel lets you locate the specific information you need and then quickly replace it with an alternative set of information. Excel has those functions in the Editing group on the Home tab. 

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Conditional Formatting

Conditional Formatting is quite sophisticated, but it lets you bring out a particular pattern by highlighting cells with a certain color, depending on certain criteria. Its importance is highlighting and emphasizes or differentiates among data and information within a spreadsheet.

Add Multiple Rows

Adding rows is quite common in spreadsheets. You can do it manually or use a shortcut, Ctrl-Shift +. Both of these methods take long and are tedious.  

Excel lets you add multiple rows in easy steps using Right Click. That means selecting the number of columns and rows that you need then Right Click and add.

Excel pricing 

The basic version of excel is free. But that doesn’t offer much.

Get the premium version, which costs $6.99/month/user. It comes with all the Office apps and 1TB cloud storage (Microsoft 365). 

This version is compatible with Windows 10 for PC and Mac OS for Mac. 

Pros of excel 

  • Allows easy data organization
  • Robust analysis of enormous data amounts
  • A vast range of formulae and calculation features 
  • Easy and effective comparisons 
  • Extensive third party support – smartphones and tablets apps
  • Powerful office integration – you can add it to Word and PowerPoint to create visually dynamic presentations or reports 

Cons of excel 

  • The high cost of entry, especially for cloud storage
  • Not easy to share 
  • Creating graphs isn’t beginner-friendly   

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Is Excel better than Google Sheets?

Excel has been in existence for more than 30 years compared to Google sheets that are only 15 years old. Being in the market for long has made excel offer users exactly what they need. Currently, it is better than Google sheets, but not in all aspects.

Excel and Google sheets have some similar features and functionalities like: 

  • Compatibility with Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac OS X
  • Templates that make an adjustment to the new tool easy
  • Auto-fill capabilities
  • Auto-save, meaning you can forget about always having to press “Save.”
  • Collaboration

However, excel wins in the following areas:  

  • Excel has better functionality than Google sheets though it has programs with an easy-to-use interface, extensive knowledge bases, and lots of tools and functions. However, excel has a slot more tools that make it easier to manage comprehensive data.
  • Offline access is far much better in MS Excel than Google sheets. In Google sheet, you’ll find it difficult to access files you had previously created. Ideally, you’ll need to install an offline extension to access files offline extensively. But the extension isn’t reliable at all times.
  • The range of features and function is more in excel, allowing you to do things faster. Actually, excel offers faster documentations. 

On the other hand, Google sheets come out top in:

  • Collaboration – Google sheets come with seamless sharing that MS excel can’t match. Ideally, Google sheets let you share your document and allow edits and comments. Besides, you can create a link to share documents and invite people.
  • Cloud syncing – Google sheets is a cloud-based alternative to excel right from its creation. You can access everything from your Google account, and syncing is automatic, which Office 365 doesn’t offer.
  • Pricing – Google sheets are free.  

Google sheets are decent spreadsheet software considering the multiple updates. However, it doesn’t match the current capabilities of Excel currently. So for now, Excel is a better choice for professionals.

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What is spreadsheet software better than Excel?

Without a doubt, excel is a powerhouse of spreadsheets. However, it is overkill for most common tasks. In this case, you might consider getting an alternative to excel. 

Apart from Google sheets, you can check out Zoho Sheet – it is free and feature-rich. On the other hand, LibreOffice offers your option if you need a native application instead of a browser solution. 

But if you are looking for a spreadsheet solution that offers you a chance to do lots of things on an app, then go with the Airtable and Smartsheet

Now, looking for an alternative to excel, you need a spreadsheet offering something absent in excel. 

Below is a detail explanation of these spreadsheets:

Apache OpenOffice Calc

Apache OpenOffice allows you to work with text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations offline, just like Microsoft office. 

That makes it an excellent alternative to Microsoft Office. Ideally, it offers almost all features present in Microsoft office without paying anything. What’s more, it runs on all platforms.

Being lightweight and the ability to utilize fewer computer resources makes an ideal option. Besides, you can easily install it, and it comes with less technical glitches than Microsoft.

Sadly, this spreadsheet is not well suited for elaborate presentations and documents, especially those using Adobe and Microsoft. 


  • Loads faster 
  • Few-none technical errors 
  • It’s free 
  • Being a cross-platform makes it versatile


  • Out-dated look and feel 

LibreOffice Calc

The best part of this spreadsheet is that it is a free and open-source productivity suite. It comes in the form of an app that packs all functionality present in any spreadsheet.

Experts taut it as a better alternative to Google sheets as it runs natively on Mac, Windows, o and Linux desktop.

Its user interface is somewhat traditional, unlike the ribbon-like interface for Microsoft. The interface is entirely customizable, allowing you to display functions that are of interest. Besides, it offers a full set of keyboard controls, making navigating the app easier and quicker.

Typically, the approach is user friendly and has native support for Excel files besides a plethora of healthy templates to save time.

You’ll appreciate the robust list of supported functions and features like conditional formatting, pivot tables, and the DataPilot tool. With the tool, you can pull raw data from databases and repurpose it in your spreadsheets.

LibreOffice Calc can handle large data sets better than web-based spreadsheet apps. However, it can’t match up to excel.


  • Draw program lets you make flowcharts and diagrams, which is missing in Microsoft Office Suite
  • Have all formulae found in excel
  • Compatible with Microsoft suite 
  • Works on Windows, Linux, and Mac


  • Has some formatting issues 

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If you are into project management or non-spreadsheet tasks, then Smartsheet is your best bet. Essentially, these spreadsheets will help you track your project and manage progress reports easily.

The spreadsheet software comes with a table like an interface, a simple user interface, and a standard function database. But looking a little deeper reveals a library of unique modifiable templates.

In short, you can customize the templates to fit your present needs. Simply add due dates and tasks in the Gantt view, and use the card view to monitor people assigned. Besides, you can use the calendar view to monitor essential dates, and you can create charts easily.

Another fantastic thing is that you can create HTML portals using drag and drop elements. Besides, you can create forms similar to Google Forms & Google Sheets to help you collect data. 

Sadly, there aren’t charts and graphing tools at the moment.


  • Easy to attach files as well as comment 
  • Has powerful Gantt Charts
  • Easy user interface 
  • Offers an excellent card view 


  • Pricey – $14/month for an individual plan and $25/month for business plan
  • Doesn’t have a time-tracking features 
  • Not compatible with all excel formulae

Other spreadsheets you can consider QuipEtherCalc, and WPS Office Spreadsheets 

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Why is Excel right for spreadsheets?

MS excel comes with lots of flexibility, which makes it a general-purpose spreadsheet.

Remember, dealing with spreadsheets can be hectic, which leads to mistakes, especially if you are dealing with incomprehensible calculations, hidden information, or complex relations. Excel is an excellent tool as it simplifies operations, making it easier to tackle even the most complex processes.

The latest version of excel allows users to analyze a large amount of data with much ease easily. It features powerful sorting, filtering, and search tools, which lets you set criteria for pointing out essential data.  

Now, add the tables, graphs, and pivot tables – you get all you need to present information in a logical and easy to understand way.

Best of all, you can use it on your PC, phone, or desktop computer.

The Excel Web App lets you work on spreadsheets simultaneously with other users. This makes it easier to streamline processes and allow for ‘brainstorming’ sessions with large data sets.

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No one can dispute the importance and power of MS Excel. Since the nineties, this spreadsheet has been servicing large and small Corporations. Again, even an individual can use it easily.

Excel is the best offline spreadsheet that allows you to do complex operations easily. However, you’d have to pay to use it. Again, it does not ease to share.

All in all, excel to get the job done better than any other spreadsheet tools out there.

Luis Gillman
Luis Gillman

Hi, I Am Luis Gillman CA (SA), ACMA
I am a Chartered Accountant (SA) and CIMA (SA) and author of Due Diligence: A strategic and Financial Approach.

The book was published by Lexis Nexis on 2001. In 2010, I wrote the second edition. Much of this website is derived from these two books.

In addition I have published an article entitled the Link Between Due Diligence and Valautions.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information published on this website is accurate, the author and owners of this website take no responsibility  for any loss or damage suffered as a result of relience upon the information contained therein.  Furthermore the bulk of the information is derived from information in 2018 and use therefore is at your on risk. In addition you should consult professional advice if required.