Microsoft's Excel is the de facto standard for spreadsheet software and is an often indispensable tool for budgeting, financial forecasting and data entry. Like any piece of software, however, Excel isn't perfect. Before you invest in a license, compare the pros and cons to decide whether Excel is right for you.
Pro: Data Organization
One of the biggest benefits of Excel is its primary function: The ability to organize large amounts of data into orderly, logical spreadsheets and charts. With the data organized, it's a lot easier to analyze and digest, especially when used to create graphs and other visual data representations.
Con: Learning Curve
While just about anyone can pick up Excel and start filling in tables, getting the full benefit of its features takes a lot of practice. Users unfamiliar with Excel syntax may also find entering calculations and calling up other functions a bit frustrating until they get a solid understanding.
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Pro: Formula and Calculation Features
Excel crunches numbers almost instantly, making batch calculations much easier than working things out yourself with a calculator. Depending on your understanding and skill with Excel, the formulas and equations are used to quickly compute both simple and complex equations using large amounts of data.
Con: Calculation Errors
While Excel's automatic calculation functions make most large-scale batch calculations easy, it isn't foolproof. Excel has no means of checking for human error during data entry, which means that the wrong information can skew all the results -- sometimes disastrously. As Tim Worstall of Forbes reports, JP Morgan lost billions of dollars due to an equation error in Excel introduced by users copying and pasting data.
Pro: Third-Party Support
Excel is essentially considered the standard for spreadsheet software and as such enjoys considerable support on a number of platforms, including smartphones and tablets. Most other spreadsheet programs also support importing Excel sheets into their native formats and exporting their own spreadsheets as Excel files.
Con: Time Consuming
Manually entering data into Excel can take a very long time -- especially if you have a lot of data to enter. The amount of time it takes to manually enter data can be extremely inefficient and as Lior Weinstein of Cogniview points out, can lead to boredom, which leads to potentially costly inattentiveness.
Pro: Office Integration
As part of Microsoft's Office suite, Excel works with almost every other piece of software in Office. Excel spreadsheets can be easily added to Word documents and PowerPoint presentations to create more visually dynamic reports or presentations.
Con: Cost of Entry
While there are several low or no-cost alternatives, getting genuine Microsoft Excel isn't free. The cloud-based version of Excel requires a subscription to Office 365, while desktop editions have a purchase price of over $60 as of March 2015.