Microsoft Excel is the world's leading spreadsheet application, and it's the one by which all others are measured. However, having the Microsoft brand on your small business software can be costly. If you're looking for a no-cost Excel alternative, you have plenty of free applications to choose from including small business apps that operate in the cloud.
Google Spreadsheets offers a lot to like -- especially Gadgets, which extend the program's feature set into new areas.
(Click for larger image).
In this roundup, I'll look at four free Excel alternatives -- one of which is a free version of Excel itself They're all solid, quality spreadsheet tools that, depending on your small business's needs, can readily replace Excel and save you money. Let's take a look at their capabilities and limitations.
4 Free Excel Alternatives
Google Docs Spreadsheet
Google Docs Spreadsheet is the spreadsheet component of the Google office applications suite that includes a word processor, presentations and spreadsheet tools as well as some ancillary applications including Gmail and Google Calendar. The Google Docs applications are cloud based, so you need a good, consistent connection to the Internet.
Google Docs Spreadsheet includes what you would expect to find in data-entry and formatting tools and the formulas you would expect it to support. It offers Data Validation similar to Excel and PivotTables.
The charting feature is pretty standard for the applications we're looking at -- none of these spreadsheet alternatives offer great-looking charts to match the look of the new charting engine in Excel 2007/2010 (except the Excel Web App), but they all offer standard charts. Google's charts can be added to a worksheet or later moved to a sheet on their own.
The Gadgets capability in Google Docs Spreadsheet sets it apart from all the other spreadsheet applications in this roundup, including Excel. Gadgets let you do things like create and plot data on a map inside a worksheet.
OpenOffice.org is a full-featured open source office suite that you install on your computer; Calc is its spreadsheet tool.
(Click for larger image).
They also let you create a survey or an invitation that you can publish to the Web or email, and they automatically assemble the reply data for you in a worksheet. Gadgets are easy to find and simple to set up and use; they give access to features that Excel does not even provide.
You can save Google Docs spreadsheets online and download them to your local disk, and you can collaborate with others on them. If you have a fast Internet connection, then Google Docs Spreadsheet is a worthy alternative to using Excel.
OpenOffice.org is an open source office application, and it is available for a range of operating systems including Linux, Mac and Windows. This makes it attractive for a small business that uses a mix of operating systems. The program includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentations tool, as well as a drawing tool.
The spreadsheet component of OpenOffice.org is called Calc. Like Google Docs Spreadsheet, it provides most of the tools that you would need in a spreadsheet program including charts, DataPilot (the equivalent of PivotTables) and macros. OpenOffice.org is popular with organizations seeking quality small business software with built-in Microsoft compatibility but without the high price of licensing actual Microsoft products.
OpenOffice.org is a downloadable program that you install on your local computer, although there is a pocket version that you can load onto a Flash drive and take it with you.
Because Calc runs locally, you don't need an Internet connection to access the spreadsheet. It supports up to 1,024 columns of data; it can save worksheets as .pdf files and Excel 2003 compatible formats; and it can open the newer .xlsx format files.
While charts in Calc don't have the look of Excel's, more sophisticated formatting options -- including plotting charts using two axes -- are available for them than for the other applications in this roundup.