How to Open an MS Excel File Without Excel

By Anne Hirsh

Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet program that allows users to enter data into a table format and manipulate it with a variety of functions. If you simply want to read the text of an Excel file, Microsoft offers a free, downloadable viewer that allows you to open--but not edit or create--Excel files. If you would like to edit or manipulate data in the spreadsheet, you must find an appropriate program on your computer or install a new program. These programs are available for both Mac and Windows operating systems.

Step 1

Locate the Excel file you would like to open on your computer. It may be on your desktop, in a folder or in a portable disk drive. The file extension (portion of the file name after the period) will be ".xls" for spreadsheets created in Excel 2003 and earlier versions. For Excel 2007 and later spreadsheets, the extension will be ".xlsx."

Step 2

Right-click on the file name if you use a PC or press "Ctrl" and click on the file name if you use a Mac. This will cause a menu, known as a context menu, to pop up with options.

Step 3

Select "Open with..." from the context menu. This will open a list of programs you can use to view the spreadsheet. In some versions of Windows, you may need to click "Choose default program" to get the list of programs.

Step 4

Find the recommended programs at the top of the list. If you have any other spreadsheet programs on your computer, they should be listed here. Microsoft Works, Apple's Numbers, Lotus 1-2-3 and OpenOffice Calc can all open Excel spreadsheets, although you may lose some formatting. If you have any of these programs, just click the program name and the computer will open the spreadsheet in that application.

Step 5

Click "Cancel" if you do not have any spreadsheet programs on your computer, or if you try the recommended programs and they do not work.

Step 6

Open an Internet browser, such as Internet Explorer, Safari or Chrome, and visit to download the free Excel Viewer software. (A direct link is listed under this article's Resources section.) This software will allow you to open and view an Excel spreadsheet, but you will not be able to edit the data.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you need to edit the data and don't currently have a spreadsheet program, OpenOffice is free to download and use, or you can upload the file to Google Documents and it will be converted to a Google spreadsheet format you can view and edit online through your Google account.