Updated: 10/30/2017 by Computer Hope

Microsoft ExcelCodenamed Odyssey, Excel is a software program from Microsoft that is part of the Microsoft Office suite of software programs. Developed by Microsoft and first released on September 30, 1985, Excel is capable of creating and editing spreadsheets that are saved with a .xls or .xlsx file extension. General uses of Excel include cell-based calculation, pivot tables, and various graphing tools. For instance, with an Excel spreadsheet, you could create a monthly budget, track business expenses, or sort and organize large amounts of data.

Unlike a word processor, such as Microsoft Word, the Excel documents consist of columns and rows of data, made up of individual cells. Each of these cells can contain either text or numerical values that can be calculated using formulas.

Excel overview

Below is an example of Microsoft Excel with each of its major sections highlighted. See the formula bar, cell, column, row, or sheet tab links for further information about each of these sections.

Microsoft Excel spreadsheet

How can Excel be formatted?

Each of the rows, columns, and cells can be modified in many ways, including the background color, number or date format, size, text font, layout, etc. In our above example, you can see that the first row (row 1) has a blue background, bold text, and each cell has its text centered.

Download an example of a spreadsheet file

We've created a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that can be downloaded and opened in any spreadsheet program including Microsoft Excel. This spreadsheet helps illustrate some of the capabilities of a spreadsheet, formulas, and functions used in a spreadsheet and allows you to experiment more with a spreadsheet.

Download example.xls

Why do people use Excel?

There are many reasons people may use Excel (a spreadsheet program). For example, someone might use Excel to keep track of their expenses. For a full list of reason and examples of how people use a spreadsheet, see our spreadsheet definition.

Why would someone use Excel over a different spreadsheet program?

Today, there are many different free spreadsheet options that someone could use instead of Excel. However, even with the available free options, Excel remains the most used spreadsheet because of all of its available options, features, and because many businesses still use the program.

Tip: Even with all of Excel's options for most people a free spreadsheet program like Google sheets is often all most users need.

Note: If you want to get Excel because it is a job requirement it is still ok to learn all of the basics in a free spreadsheet program. However, there are still many differences between Excel and a free spreadsheet program.

Formula, Function, Lookup, Multiplan, Spreadsheet, Spreadsheet terms