Overview of Microsoft Excel

Excel Overview

For complete newbies to Excel (we have all been there!) this short guide will help you gain an understanding of what Excel is, what it can be used for and who uses Excel. If you have never used Excel before this is a great place to start your journey…

What is Excel?

Microsoft Excel is a Spreadsheet Software / Application that can be used to organise and manipulate numerical or text data. Excel is a product in its own right but also can be found as part of the Microsoft Office product family which contains other products such as Word, PowerPoint, Access and Outlook.

What do you mean by Spreadsheet Software?

Simply put a spreadsheet is a grid of cells that has been arranged by rows and columns, all of which are numbered or lettered to provide each cell with a unique reference. Rows go down the Spreadsheet and Columns go across the Spreadsheet.

For example if the Columns are lettered alphabetically starting with A and the Rows are labelled numerically starting with 1 then the first cell on the Spreadsheet will be the one found in the upper left corner and that would be known as cell A1 in the spreadsheet.


Depending on what version of Excel you use the number of columns and rows (and therefore cells) on the Spreadsheet varies, in the latest version you have a whopping 1,048,576 Rows and 16,384 Columns to play with, that’s over 17billion cells on a single spreadsheet!

What can I use Excel for?

There are endless possibilities when it comes to uses for Excel but it really comes into its own when you have numerical data that needs to be organised in a way to help you make informed decisions.

Some of the main uses are:

  1. Storing and Tracking data: For example you might want to track your weekly weight as part of a weight-loss plan in Excel or a Business may want to track its monthly sales for different regions or sales staff within the company.
  2. Basic Data Analysis: Once you have raw data in Excel, for example your weekly weight figures or weekly sales figures, Excel can be used to analyse the data quickly and easily by plotting the information on Charts to identify trends or patterns. This is very useful as lists of numbers on a Spreadsheet are not always that helpful to non-technical users but once plotted on a chart it becomes easier to spot patterns worth investigating.
  3. Advanced Data Analysis: Moving on from basic analysis Excel can help you perform more complicated tasks such as forecasting, statistical testing like regression analysis or creating data models that will can help you make informed business decisions.
  4. Data Automations: Again this is taking Excel past the basics but with the use of Excel Macro’s and VBA Scripts you can automate any task in Excel to make the software do all the hard-work for you. For example you may get a raw data file every day which you copy into Excel and then update tables and charts from, Excel can be used to automate this task so all you have to do is click one button then go grab a coffee while it works away.
  5. Dashboard and Reports: In the business world reports and over the past decade Dashboards have become integral in all aspects of a company. You may be familiar with monthly sales reports or dashboards showing key metrics which a business uses to measure progress towards goals and Excel can be a hugely powerful tool in creating these type of documents.

Who uses Excel?

Excel is used widely both for Home or Personal Use and Business along with being used in Educational institutions like Colleges and Universities. Having some Excel experience will help most staff who work in an office environment and will empower small business owners when it comes to data management and analysis.

Home users will be everyone from consultants who specialise in data analysis through to non-technical people who enjoy organising their own personal data, for example by creating their own financial trackers or monthly spending logs.

In business you will rarely come across a large organisation that does not use Microsoft Excel, it really is the Spreadsheet software of choice for most as it makes handling raw data a breeze and importantly it makes turning a bunch of numbers into something more meaningful very easy once you have the basic skills mastered.

I have even seen Excel being used on Crab Fishing boats to log pot counts, as witnessed in a recent episode of the Discovery Channels Deadliest Catch, Excel really is everywhere and used by so many people!

What Versions of Excel are there?

Like any good software that has been around for a while there are different versions that exist. Microsoft Excel has been around since the late 80’s so it has been through many versions since its original release:

  • Excel 2.0 (1987)
  • Excel 3.0 (1990)
  • Excel 4.0 (1992)
  • Excel 5.0 (1993)
  • Excel 95 (1995)
  • Excel 97 (1997)
  • Excel 2000 (2000)
  • Excel 2002 (2002)
  • Excel 2003 (2003)
  • Excel 2007 (2007)
  • Excel 2010 (2010)
  • Excel 2013 (2013)
  • Excel 2016 / Excel 365 (2016)

You will struggle to find more than a handful of people still using the pre 1995 Excel versions. There are a few more still using 1997 but these are mainly home/personal users now as businesses move onto more powerful versions that can handle larger datasets and more complexed calculations. From my own experience as a consultant there are very few organisations that still use pre-2007 versions now, especially as older versions become unsupported by Microsoft.

Are there alternatives to Excel?

There are alternatives to Excel but most just try to imitate Excel which is seen as the industry leading Spreadsheet Application. This is an Excel help website so I will not get into the other software that is on the market but I have tested and worked with the majority and I always come back to Excel, if you are serious about Spreadsheets Excel is the choice.

Where can I get Excel?

Microsoft Excel can be purchased from most major Computing Outlets but the easiest way is to purchase the software online. When you purchase the software you are given a Unique Licence Key and a link to Download the software, all you do is download the software as instructed and enter your unique licence key when prompted and hey presto you now have Microsoft Excel at your fingertips. A useful tip is to keep your licence key written down somewhere safe and that way should you ever need to reinstall the Software you don’t have to hunt down old emails containing the information.

You can purchase Microsoft Excel by clicking on the following image:

Further learning

There are more posts within the Excel Beginners section of this website that I recommend you work through to start gaining a deeper understanding of Excel. Please take a look at those as knowing the basics is the best starting point for all learning, mastering the basics does not take a lot of time and once you unlock that skill you will be amazed at what you can do with Excel.

Keep Excelling,

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