8 Excel Alternatives for Crunching Numbers and Creating Charts

Photo of Excel spreadsheet software

What can Microsoft Excel do for you?

In the world of personal and business computing, Microsoft Excel has been the standard for spreadsheets around the world. An estimated 750 million people use it to keep track of data today.

Excel users range from large companies who rely on it to power their database, to individuals who want to keep track of their spending. Excel is a straightforward, flexible data management application, with robust features like pivoted tables and various types of spreadsheets. It offers many charting options, from color-coded pie charts to bar graphs with custom-formatted data cells. It also offers project automation tools which allow for a smoother, more sophisticated workflow.

Excel is available as part of the Microsoft Office suite, or more recently as part of the Office 365 package. It can be used on a traditional computer or a mobile device.

It’s important to distinguish between the mobile version of Excel and the traditional desktop application. The desktop application is feature-packed, with the above endless custom options all in play, while the mobile version is more compact. Excel for tablets and smartphones has access to cloud storage through Microsoft One-drive, while the desktop version does not.

As versatile and mainstream as Excel is, though, it’s important to recognize that there are several competitive alternatives available. Here are some of the following alternative spreadsheet applications . Read on to find out how they stack up to Excel.

1. Google Sheets

Sheets is Google’s collaborative spreadsheet software. In addition to Customizable spreadsheets, Sheets allows multiple users to edit and view a file remotely in realtime. Files created and saved in Sheets are stored on Google Drive.

Anyone who has a Gmail account has automatic access to Google Sheets. A user can share a link to a spreadsheet stored in Sheets via any modern communication tool such as email or Slack.

Furthermore, sheets is available across all major operating platforms. If you’re using IOS, Sheets can be downloaded from Apple’s app store. If you’re on a desktop, you can simply view it in your web browser or via Google Drive’s desktop app.

This makes Google Sheets especially appealing to anyone who works remotely or on the go. Collaborators can chat within the spreadsheet program itself.

For all of its flexibility, Google Sheets does have some drawbacks when compared to the full version of Excel. Sheets cannot handle as many variations of spreadsheets as Excel, and it lacks project automation tools.

2. Numbers For Mac

Every major tech company has a suite of productivity apps, and Apple is no exception. Apple’s answer to Excel is Numbers, a graphing and data app which functions in IOS and OSX.

Apple’s Numbers gives you license to get creative, even more so than using Excel. The user interface is generally more intuitive as well, but this is the case only because Numbers is slightly less robust on the technical side.

For instance, Excel is better-suited for mathematical and scientific data-gathering. Numbers also features a way to export its spreadsheets to Excel, but they present very awkwardly when imported.

Numbers outshines Excel in terms of presentation. While Excel’s spreadsheets all feature a grid base upon which graphics can be created, Numbers offers freeform sheets. Each Numbers spreadsheet is like a whiteboard upon which the user can draw a customized table.

For instance, you can create a sheet with two different types of charts combined, and each element can be manipulated using a different shape. Numbers also offers a more intuitive way to switch data around if necessary. If you need rows to become columns and vice versa, you can transpose that with a single button, where as Excel forces you to do a lot of copying and pasting.

In short, Numbers handles basic data very well, and offers a feature-rich presentation. However, it falls short when it comes to handling advanced scientific data. Numbers is a viable option for the dedicated user of Apple products.

3. Thinkfree Calc

If you’re looking for a minimalist yet feature-rich Excel alternative, you might consider Thinkfree Calc. Calc is the spreadsheet app within the web-based Thinkfree productivity suite. It can read and save spreadsheets in XLS and XLSX, both of which are the standard file types for Excel. Thinkfree Calc is very similar to Excel in terms of appearance, but its formatting options are limited.

Thinkfree Calc can handle basic data presentations including bar graphs and flow charts. But it cannot present advanced formulas, and it limits the user’s ability to come up with unique spreadsheet designs.

The advantages of Thinkfree Calc amount to accessibility and flexibility. Calc is available on any device with access to the Internet, and it doesn’t require any apps to be installed onto the device itself. It also comes with a free gig of cloud storage. Its collaboration features, which are similar to those of Google Sheets, also stack up as a strong advantage for users on-the-go.

4. Smartsheet

Merge an online spreadsheet program with a highly integrated project management tool, and you get Smartsheet. Smartsheet is an independent spreadsheet and project management system designed for use in a business setting. It is a unique tool that blends three key benefits in one application: data presentation, project management, and accessibility.

Smartsheet features some advanced formatting and customization of spreadsheets, making it a stellar database tool.

Excel’s number-crunching and scientific data reporting abilities far outweigh those of Smartsheet’s, however. Smartsheet lacks pivoting tables, for instance, and does not do well as an advanced budget tracker.

This stand-alone spreadsheet alternative allows you to import sheets from other applications, though. You can use it in conjunction with Google Sheets, Excel, and others. Unlike any of the better-known spreadsheet apps, Smartsheet allows you to attach any file to charts and tables. You can even choose which row to attach the file to. Smartsheet can read XlS and Google Sheets files, which negates the need to work with it exclusively.

Like Google Sheets, Smartsheet allows for realtime collaboration between users. In fact, it goes a step further; its a sturdy project management tool. This makes it an ideal solution for small businesses that work with remote subcontractors.

5. Airtable

Airtable is a match for Excel on many levels. In some aspects, this tech-world favorite beats Excel to the punch.

Airtable is entirely cloud-based. You can get it on any platform that has Internet access, and you can use it in a similar way to Excel. A large gallery of spreadsheet templates are available with Airtable, with the option of exporting each file to Excel’s XLS file type.

Though it is packed with advanced features, Airtable has an intuitive interface. It looks more manageable than Excel, thanks to its neatly-placed pull-down menus. This program is versatile enough to be the everyday person’s small-time budget tracker. It’s advanced features make it a favorite amongst programmers and scientists

Airtable is used by several major corporations who rely strongly on their data. Thanks to its web-based functionality and template versatility, Airtable is Excel’s true contender.

6. FreeOffice Planmaker

FreeOffice Planmaker is a true alternative to Excel. Its functionality and features are almost parallel.

Planmaker handles advanced data well, thanks to its pivoting tables and versatile formatting options. It’s very useful for storing and reviewing spreadsheets, even if they were created in XL.

One drawback to this software, however, is that while you can open XL documents, you can’t save them in the same format. Another drawback is that Planmaker is made for desktops, not mobile devices.

It also does not offer any kind of cloud storage.

Planmaker can serve as a great backup alternative to someone who regularly uses Excel.

7. Birt Spreadsheet

Birt spreadsheet, formerly Actuate E.Spreadsheet, is a business reporting and analysis tool. It can produce many of the same formulas as Excel. However, it was originally designed as a business reporting tool, so its live data features are more advanced.

Birt has the unique ability to retain live information via charts. For instance, you can insert a hyperlink into a video within your Birt spreadsheet, and it will be clickable during your presentation.

Additionally, Birt features a spreadsheet designer, which helps formulate data based on what you need it for. You can choose from the provided templates, or make one entirely your own.

You can save Birt files as excel sheets, making them cross-compatible. You can also attach or link to word files and various multimedia. While Excel can imbed graphics into its formulas, it cannot present live links to pictures as seamlessly as Birt Spreadsheets.

8. Zoho Sheet

Zoho Sheet is primarily a tool for small to mid-level businesses. It is included in the Zoho productivity suite, which is available across all major mobile and desktop platforms.

Zoho Sheet merges the flexibility of Google Sheet and the familiar functionality of Excel to present the best of both worlds. It comes with cloud storage, and it handles realtime collaboration well.

Although Zoho Sheet is yet another cloud-based application, it can easily edit preexisting spreadsheets found on your hard drive. It can open .CSV and .ODS files in addition to the standard Excel file types.

Zoho Sheet does not feature as much support for robust data presentation as Excel, but it can handle basic business matters. From budgeting to database management, Zoho can present professional spreadsheets in a user-friendly, simple interface.



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