A spreadsheet software tool is a platform designed to analyze, organize, and store information in a table with rows and columns. First created as a computerized aide to paper accounting worksheets, spreadsheets calculate values using data that has been entered in cells of a table. This data can be either text or numeric, or results of automatic formulas that interact with other cell data.
Today’s spreadsheets are able to perform basic math functions, and have built-in capabilities to carry out financial accounting work and statistical tasks. Three of the most common uses of spreadsheets include: producing financial budgets, sorting and storing data, and creating charts and graphs. Today’s modern spreadsheet platforms are Turing-complete, making them effectively programming languages in their own right. Here is a basic example of a sheet from Google Sheets Spreadsheet:
In the above example, column A lists three check numbers; column B the date; column C their description, and column D the amount of each check. The amounts (or cell values) are added together for a total of $275.00 in cell D9. That value is subtracted from the check balance to give the amount left, $349.00 in cell D11.
Common Spreadsheet Tool Features
Here is a useful, ordered list of the most common features in a spreadsheet tool:
- Create and Edit Charts: Create various charts such as pie-charts, bar graphs, line graphs, etc. to help easily compare, analyze, and process data.
- Create Formula / Employ Functions: Ability to create mathematical, analytical, and/or text manipulation operations using defined and predefined formulas or functions.
- Import / Export / Save as – Excel file: Works with or edits or reads or extracts or saves .xls or .xlsx files.
- Refer Cell Values: Ability to refer the value of a cell or cell range onto a different worksheet cell or cell range (within or across the spreadsheets).
- Data Filtering / Sorting: Ability to sort and show or hide selected data sets in rows, columns, or tables.
- Templates: Pre-formatted document that can be revised as a startup point to create a new file.
- Formatting / Styling Option: Lets you apply a style to a combination of formatting attributes and are worksheet specific.
- Password Protection / Document Restriction: Protects/restricts the spreadsheet from unauthorized access.
- Print Optimization: Adhering to document printing standards and best practices using efficient methods and/or devices.
While Excel is the most widely used spreadsheet, there are many excellent alternatives:
- Apache OpenOffice Calc 4
- LibreOffice Calc 7
- OnlyOffice Spreadsheet
- Google Spreadsheet
- Excel for the Web
- Zoho Sheet
- Numbers for Mac
- Gnumeric 1.12
The spreadsheets named here have all reached “Super Nova” status (our highest rating), here at Doakio.
If you’re interested in finding a spreadsheet that fits your needs, please see our comprehensive publication, Excel Alternatives Compared. Also, our custom picture-survey tools survey allows participants to input their own priority rating for each spreadsheet feature.
While spreadsheets are flexible, powerful tools, they do have some limitations. Fortunately data-science tools exist, like Notebooks, to help mitigate these issues. The following are some spreadsheet problems:
- Data Size: Excel sheet is limited to around one million rows. This simply is not enough in many situations.
- Linearity: Some nonlinear, nested analysis can be difficult to follow or understand.
- Quality: Spreadsheet calculation errors are too common.
- Presentation and Shareability: It is difficult to cleanly incorporate descriptive headers, detailed commentary, explanatory graphics, and data visualizations into a spreadsheet.
While there are third-party and built-in tools that help with spreadsheet shortcomings, awareness of these tools is low.
The Future of Spreadsheets
Being connected is a critical part of making spreadsheets more useful. Due to security issues, tech problems, etc., most spreadsheets are separate from the data that users actually want to examine. Often, users end up exporting data from some intricate information-technology system into a comma-separated values file. Then, they need to export to a PC desktop, and open the files in the spreadsheet they are using. Finally the charts, tables, etc. get updated. While this still works, businesses today want a quicker option. Decision making relies on spreadsheets having recent data.
With advances in areas such as predictive analytics, machine learning, and mobile-friendly computing, businesses now have more choices. To make processes more efficient, some companies may well abandon the spreadsheet, but not yet.