We’ve seen how powerful and versatile Excel can be. We also know how easy it is to share data with Excel because of how ubiquitous it is – after all, practically everyone and their mother has Microsoft Office (and therefore Excel) on their computers.
Probably the only thing that’s keeping Excel from fully conquering the spreadsheet market at this point, is its price. Microsoft retails Excel 2010 for $140. A better deal would be the most basic Office Suite, which will still set you back by $150. The full, professional edition costs a whopping $500.
So for those who are unable to afford it, is there any way to get Excel for free?
We have some good news and bad news.
First, the bad news. Right now, there’s simply no way to get a full-featured, PC version of Excel completely free. At least no way that we could ethically or legally discuss in this article. (Which makes sense, really; would you want to give away your cash cow for free?)
But here’s the good news. There are several ways to get Excel’s more basic features for free. So if you’re not a power user, or you simply want to give Excel a try, these “lite” versions would most likely be enough for your needs.
Let’s look at some of these ways:
If you don’t really need to edit worksheets, Microsoft provides a free program that will let you open, view, and print out spreadsheets.
Just download the installer from Microsoft and double-click it to install. That’s it! That’s all it takes. Now you can open and view any Excel file.
If you don’t mind doing your work online, the Excel Web App is a great, free alternative way to access Excel, and other applications in the MS Office Suite. All you need to do is sign up for a free Windows Live ID, if you don’t already have one, and you’ll be able to access most of Excel’s basic features.
One great thing about the Excel Web App is that it offers a seamless online collaboration experience. Create an Excel file, and share it with other people. Then, you will all be able to work on the same file at the same time. Plus, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. You’ll be able to work on your files anywhere that has an internet connection.
Working online is not for everyone. If you get stuck in a place without internet connection, and you need access to your files, then you’re out of luck.
If you’re looking for an offline Excel installation, here are some options you might want to consider:
On one hand, it’s free. You’ll get full access to all of Excel’s great features even when you’re offline. And, if you sign up for a Windows Live ID, you can take full advantage of the Excel Web App’s advanced online features, too.
On the other hand, you can only use this for 60 days. After this period is over, you’ll still need to purchase a license for Excel in order to keep using it.
If you’re in the market for a new PC anyway, look for PCs that come bundled with the Microsoft Office Starter 2010, which includes the Excel Starter.
It’s ad-supported, which might be annoying to some, and the features that are typically used in business or schools have been stripped away. Some of the functionality that you’ll have to give up on for this version: there’s no support for add-ins; pivot tables and pivot charts are unavailable; and connections to external data cannot be created. But, hey, nothing beats the price: free.
And while we’re on the subject of free Excel, you might want to check out Microsoft’s download site for Excel Templates.
So what is an Excel template? As the name implies, it’s simply a type of Excel file that you can use as a model for your own spreadsheets. It typically contains all the necessary formulas that you will need for the purpose of the template, all laid out in a nice format.
For instance, you can download an invoice template that you can customize for your own needs. All you have to do is put your company’s logo and details in the spaces provided, and enter the details of the items in the columns provided. That’s it! Excel will do the rest. The built-in formulas will do the calculations for you, and you now have a professional-looking invoice that you can print out if you choose.
The Microsoft site mentioned above contains hundreds of templates that you can choose from. From simple calendars to expense reports, to cash flow statements, to profit and loss statements, they’re all available for free.
There are other sites out there that offer free and paid templates for download. However, caveat emptor. Download templates only from sites that you trust, and don’t allow suspicious macros to run in your computer.
In any case, even though Excel seems to have the lion’s share of the spreadsheet market, there are still other viable options out there. They may not have all of the features that we have come to expect from Excel, but for non-power users, they should be able to do the job. And yes, they’re all absolutely free.
Here are some great, free alternatives to Excel:
Google Spreadsheet: It’s part of Google Docs’s online suite of applications. It has a fairly robust set of functions and features, which should be more than enough for the casual user.
Google Spreadsheet’s biggest strength lies in its seamless integration with Gmail and Google Calendar, and it’s full support for online collaboration. Also, it offers support for Excel files. You can upload files in Excel format so you can edit them in Spreadsheet. Alternatively, you can download your Spreadsheet files in Excel format.
Open Office is probably the closest to Excel in terms of features and user experience. It’s an open source software that’s distributed under the GNU Public License, so it’s completely free. Plus, it fully supports the Excel format – even Excel 2010.
The interface doesn’t take a long time to get used to, especially if you’re already familiar with Excel. It offers support for add-ins, too, but right now, there aren’t too many third-party add-ins available for Open Office yet.