Spreadsheet software: top five on the market

Choose the best program for crunching your numbers

For a lot of people, working with spreadsheets is a necessary evil. Something they must endure to get their job done. Spreadsheets can be very useful and can make number-crunching much easier, but often people aren't fully trained on the software they are using, or aren't using the best software that they could be. In fact, many people will be hard-pressed to name a spreadsheet application beyond the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel.

Excel is a good spreadsheet tool and we'll discuss its features and functionality shortly. As part of Microsoft's Office productivity suite, however, it has benefited greatly from being bundled with Windows PCs for a long time. It is by far and away the dominant player in the spreadsheet software market. Where spreadsheet software is concerned, many people will have only used Excel.

Despite this, there are other spreadsheet applications available that can do just as good a job as Excel. For people who already have Excel installed and are comfortable with it, it may be convenient to stick with what you know. For those who are less tied to Excel, however, or those who spend a lot of time using spreadsheets, it may be worth looking around at some potential alternatives (many of which are free).

This article takes a look at some of the most popular spreadsheet software packages available, including Microsoft Excel. It provides an overview of each, taking a look at their different functionalities and benefits.

Microsoft Excel

Website: http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/excel

Price: From £109.99 one-off, or £5.99 per month (both as part of Microsoft Office)

Microsoft Excel should need no introduction. It was made available as part of the Microsoft Office suite in 1990 and is the industry standard where spreadsheet software is concerned. Today, Excel is available both as an on-premise piece of software that can be bought and installed with a one-off payment as part of Office, or as a cloud-based offering that can be paid for on a monthly basis as part of Office 365.

Excel provides a great deal of basic functionality that we now take for granted. It is, of course, possible to calculate formulas, extrapolate trends and work with sets of data. Charts can be produced to illustrate data sets and data can be filtered and sorted as required. The newest version of Excel, however, provides a host of more advanced features as well.

Excel is available across a variety of different platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Users can create and edit spreadsheets on one device and continue working on them on another device, wherever they are. Its possible to share workbooks online and collaborate on them with others, helping to ensure that everyone is using the same version. It's also possible to share your screen and present Excel online via Lync when delivering data presentations.

Other tools are aimed at speeding up the process of working with Excel. Flash Fill detects what users are trying to do and offers a prediction of the final outcome, allowing them to fill a series of data quickly and with ease. Similarly, the Quick Analysis tool lets users convert data into a chart or table in two steps or less.

Apache OpenOffice Calc

Website: https://www.openoffice.org/product/calc.html

Price: Free

OpenOffice was created as a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office. It began life as StarOffice in 1985 and was acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999. Acording to the OpenOffice website, "Sun continued to sponsor development on OpenOffice.org for the next 10 years, a period during which not only did the project grow tremendously and became truly global, but the user base also saw an extraordinary increase, and as of the end of 2010 was estimated to be in excess of 100 million."

In 2011, the platform was donated to Apache, which continues to run it, and Apache says it has presided over 100 million downloads since the acquisition.

Using OpenOffice can feel a lot like using an old version of Microsoft Excel, and its spreadsheet module, Calc, is no different. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Users will find the interface and functionality familiar, albeit with fewer bells and whistles. Apache says it aims for new users to find the software intuitive and for more experienced users to find the data manipulation functionality comprehensive.

Amongst Calc's main features are DataPilot, which allows users to import raw data in a variety of formats, Natural Language Formulas that allow users to type commands with normal words, and the Intelligent Sum Button that inserts a sum function or a subtotal automatically, depending on context. Calc also offers a variety of Wizards to guide users through different processes and support for multiple users.