Facts About Microsoft Excel

All editions of Microsoft Office 2013 and subscriptions to Office 365 include Excel 2013, a spreadsheet, chart-making and data analysis program. The cheapest retail edition of Office 2013, designed for home and student use only, costs $140 as of 2014, while the cheapest business tier costs $220. Microsoft also sells Excel on its own for $110. Office 365 subscriptions start at $7 per month and include Excel for the iPad, which is not sold separately.

Background of the numbers on sheets  paper
Functions save you from having to recalculate results every time you change a cell.
credit: GeorgiMironi/iStock/Getty Images

Uses for Excel

At its core, Excel provides tools for creating spreadsheets. Even with very little experience, you can enter data into rows and columns, sort the data and filter it for easier viewing. After entering data, you can create graphs and charts with only a few clicks. Excel also provides functions and formulas, making it possible for your spreadsheet to automatically calculate and update results based on the data you input. Advanced users can write miniature programs within Excel using Visual Basic for Applications to perform repetitive tasks, create new methods of analyzing data or turn static spreadsheets into interactive utilities.

Charts and Graphs

Excel 2007 and 2010 made creating a chart as simple as highlighting data and clicking a chart type on the Insert tab, but often the toughest step was figuring out which chart type best matched the data. As a solution, Excel 2013 added a new "Recommended Charts" button. This feature looks at the data in your spreadsheet, picks out a selection of charts that would work well and allows you to view a sample of each before inserting one into your document. Excel 2013 also consolidated the chart options for easier use, eliminating the Layout tab.

Filling in Data

All versions of Excel offer methods to quickly fill in data that follows a simple pattern: If you type "1," "2" and "3" in three cells in a column and drag the fill handle downwards, Excel will continue counting in each subsequent cell. Excel 2013 introduced Flash Fill, which recognizes more complex patterns in data entry. For example, if you have one column of first names and another column of last names, and you begin combining the two into full names in a third column, Flash Fill automatically picks up on your activity and fills in the rest of the names with a single press of "Enter."

Analyzing Data

Excel 2013 includes a Quick Analysis button that appears any time you select a range of cells. Quick Analysis offers varying types of formatting options, charts, functions and tables depending on the type of data you select. Many of these analysis methods existed in older versions, but they required additional steps to use -- rather than clicking a single button to add data bars, for example, you would have to open the "Home" tab, click "Conditional Formatting," pick "Data Bars" and choose a style.

Excel Compatibility

All versions of Excel dating back to 2007 save workbooks as XLSX files. These versions can also read the XLS format from Excel 2003 and earlier, as well as alternatives such as ODS and CSV, but some features and formatting options won't work with these files until you convert them into XLSX files.