Spreadsheets are everywhere: people use them every day to track inventory, budgeting, data tracking and a million other things. And, although Microsoft Excel has been the go-to spreadsheet for years, there are other (free) alternatives that you might like more.
Whatever the reason you use a spreadsheet, it is likely that you have used Microsoft Excel at some point. And, while the software is more than capable of handling whatever you throw at it (even Grandma’s knitting patterns and your little brother Minecraft construction plans), Excel is expensive and even lacks a few features that would make it more usable. Fortunately, there are many free alternatives, many of which are just as powerful and easy to use.
What to look for in a Microsoft Excel alternative
The free spreadsheet should be as powerful as the paid options and come with all the tools you need to spread the word. Here are the most important features that good spreadsheet software should offer, and why they are important:
An intuitive interface: Spreadsheets are designed to handle complex tasks, but that doesn’t mean that the software itself should be clunky or difficult to use. The best Excel alternatives have a modern look and smart tool organization, and are stocked with ready-made artillery of formulas, functions, and built-in models. The software should also have cross-platform support, so you can access it anywhere.
Live collaboration support: If your team has to work together through a spreadsheet, it is imperative that the software supports simultaneous collaboration. Likewise, the program should also be able to track who does what when, and allow you to lock individual cells (or the entire document) so that no unwanted changes can be made. It should also allow you to set the spreadsheet to read-only and activate other permissions for users.
Powerful functions and formulas: Whether you are monitoring the warehouse inventory, managing your departmental accounting, or creating graphs from the data for an upcoming presentation, your spreadsheet must have a wide variety of formulas. The basic options for simple math are a given, but if you need something more advanced like statistical or logical functions, or the ability to create a custom function, the software should be able to handle them as well.
Dynamic visuals: It’s not that looking at thousands of cells of text and numbers isn’t much fun, but tables and charts are a little easier to look at. Visuals allow you to see the data at a glance and are a must for presentations. Good Microsoft Excel alternatives support dynamic tables and graphs that update in real time as your data does, and should allow for extensive customization so you can make your visuals look and work exactly the way you want them to. you need.
Advanced features: Most people will probably never care about the advanced features of most spreadsheets, such as custom macros, filters, PivotTables, conditional formatting, or the ability to calculate and analyze large sets of data. However, it’s good to know that these features are available when and if you need them.
Best cloud-based Excel alternative: Google Sheets
Google Sheets (Free) has become as well known as Microsoft Excel. Google users already have access to this application, and its ability to integrate with other Google products (like Google Forms and Google Data Studio) makes it easier for you to stay on track while working on your projects. Sheets also saves everything you create in the cloud. You will therefore have access to your spreadsheets from any computer, iOS, or Android device.
The software is easy to navigate and use with its clean and minimal appearance. Support for simultaneous collaboration is great for teams, and it even has a built-in group chat area where everyone on your team can talk about the document while they work. You can comment on cells and set specific user permissions for individual cells or the entire document. A robust Sheets help section is also ready to help if you have any questions.
Sheets offers tons of built-in formulas, as well as plenty of PivotTables, conditional formatting options, and templates that can save you time and effort. It contains robust and customizable charts and graphs to visualize your data, which update dynamically as your data does. Google Sheets also stores granular documentation of changes and supports version control.
Ideal for Apple users: Apple iWork numbers
Apple version of Excel, IWork numbers (Free), is available to anyone with an iCloud account (which includes PC users), but the mobile app is only available for IOS users (sorry, Android). The numbers, of course, support the Apple pencil. If you work from your iPad, you can take notes and draw diagrams manually. The app also supports real-time collaboration, showing you changes in real-time, and lets you save and export documents as Excel files if you need to work with anyone using Excel. If you need to keep an important document safe in Numbers, you can lock it with a password, Touch ID or Face ID.
In the true minimalist form of Apple, the default for Numbers is a blank sheet instead of a grid (as Excel and its alternatives offer), and its features are rare and poorly represented. You can easily add charts, tables, and other content as needed, or choose a template to start with. Numbers offers over 700 customizable shapes that you can shape for data visualization, as well as many options for adjusting the appearance of fonts, tables, and cell borders. Application tools can handle complex functions and formulas, and its Smart Categories functionality provides organization of tables and summaries for a deeper insight into your data.
Best Excel Open-Source alternative: LibreOffice Calc
Calc (Free), part of LibreOffice, is a robust spreadsheet program for Windows, macOS and Linux users. Although the software doesn’t have the beauty and flash of other alternatives, it is open source, which means that you have access to a lot more functionality and the freedom to customize just about anything. If you don’t want to start with a blank document, choose a free model to work out of.
LibreOffice Calc natively supports Excel files. You can also customize its appearance so that it only shows you the tools and features you want to work with, and its convenient keyboard shortcuts make it quick to navigate through its interface. The software’s built-in wizard helps you create visualizations from your data and use other advanced features, making it easy to use for both novice and experienced users.
Calc has a neat tool called DataPilot which allows you to import raw data from external databases and manipulate it in your own spreadsheet. You can also create dynamic tables and graphs that display updated data in real time. The software offers flexible cell formatting and robust customization options for text, cells and graphics. In addition, multi-user collaboration in Calc is also possible, but this functionality is not as robust as in almost all other alternatives.
Closer to Microsoft Excel: WPS Office spreadsheets
If you’re looking for an alternative to Excel that still looks and works largely like Excel, WPS Office spreadsheets (Free) is the one to choose. In addition to having a layout similar to Excel, WPS is also compatible with XLS, XLSX and CSV files, so you can import files from (or export to) Microsoft Excel without problem. WPS Office is available on the Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, as well as on the Web (but only as a complete suite); if you only want to access spreadsheets, you’re still stuck with the entire suite, including the word processor.
WPS has a nice modern easy to use interface. It supports tracking changes and comments, as well as multi-user collaboration with WPS and Microsoft Office users, and it has over 50 keyboard shortcuts for easier navigation. The software supports advanced PivotTables, contains over 100 formulas that you can use with your data, and has a simulation analysis function that you can use to find solutions to complex data-rich problems. Paying to switch to the Premium plan ($ 29.99 / year) eliminates ads, gives you cloud storage and allows you to access the program on up to nine devices (instead of three on the free plan).
Ideal for serious data analysis: Zoho Office Sheet
Zoho office sheet (Free) is an excellent spreadsheet for many reasons, the first of which is its AI-based data analysis tool, Zia, which analyzes your data and provides information to help you better understand it. Zia eliminates inconsistencies and duplicate values and automates PivotTables and charts that you can then add to your spreadsheet. You can also “ask” the tool questions about your data, or analyze that data with certain filters in place, and this will help you find an answer.
Zoho has no shortage of other features, such as real-time collaboration for up to 25 users or a chat panel where users can chat about a document. The audit trail tool lets you see who made a particular change to the document and Zoho saves each document with default version backups so you don’t have to worry about data loss. You can lock the entire document, or just certain cells, with a password, set read and edit permissions, and publish some or all of your spreadsheet to the web.
The application supports more than 350 functions, in addition to advanced functions such as PivotTables and conditional formatting. It can automate certain tasks, create validations for data entry, collect data with forms and import data from external sources such as a web page, an RSS feed or an external file. The application also allows you to create custom functions and record macros. Zoho is cloud-based and accessible everywhere.