Before electronic spreadsheets, businesses used mainframe computers to process large amounts of data; organizations could not justify the high cost of programming for small desktop applications. Accountants used journal pads and adding machines to supplement the data on their mainframe printouts. The first personal computer electronic spreadsheets, including Visicalc and Lotus 1-2-3, revolutionized business because they were fast, flexible and low in cost. Today's software, such as Microsoft's Excel, continue the productivity benefits pioneered in the earlier programs.
Electronic spreadsheet software improves productivity by reducing the labor of everyday accounting tasks. As you type the data into the spreadsheet, formulas instantly calculate multiple totals at the same time. For example, you no longer need to manually add up totals by salesperson, and by week, month and year as separate steps; the spreadsheet does this automatically. It also does averages, minimum/maximum functions and more advanced formulas and statistics. As an added bonus, spreadsheet software such as Microsoft's Excel produces graphs and charts with a few mouse clicks.
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The ubiquity of spreadsheet software means you can share spreadsheet files with your office colleagues, business partners, auditors and others. You can send spreadsheet files through local networks or email in a few seconds. Mobile professionals take their spreadsheet with them on notebook computers, tablets and mobile phones, updating information in the field.
Setting up a new spreadsheet is relatively easy, as is adding new rows, columns and formulas to an existing one. A spreadsheet follows a simple grid system, wherein every cell can contain a piece of text, numeric data item or formula. The program imposes no structure on your spreadsheet other than the row-column grid; you set up heading text, rows and columns of data, and formulas wherever you want and in any combination.
The cost of spreadsheets ranges from free to a few hundred dollars. Apache OpenOffice's Calc and Google spreadsheets are available at no cost; you can import standard Microsoft Excel spreadsheets into them or work with their native formats. At the time of this publication, Microsoft's Office 2010 includes Excel, Word, PowerPoint and other programs for prices ranging from $120 for home editions to a $500 version for professionals. Low costs allow fledgling businesses, nonprofit organizations and storefront proprietors to reap the same spreadsheet benefits as global corporations.