What is Excel?

Excel is a spreadsheet editor program developed by Microsoft and allows users to input, organize and manipulate data in table format, which is made up of rows and columns. Users can then use functions and formulas to perform calculations, create charts and graphs to visualize data, and create pivot tables to summarize data.

Excel is a key component of Microsoft Office suite and available for different platforms including Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. It features graphic tools, pivot tables, and a built-in macro programming language named Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).

Here is a screenshot of Microsoft Excel application.

What is Excel used for?

Excel is used to store, analyze and report on large amounts of data. The main uses of Excel include

  • Data Entry
  • Data Organization
  • Data Visualization
  • Accounting
  • Financial Management
  • Graphic and Charting
  • Time Management
  • Task Management
  • Programming
  • Extracting Data

What are the Data Types in Excel?

Here is a list of the data types you can find in Microsoft Excel

  • Number data

    • Examples of Number data include:
      • Whole Numbers
      • Decimals
      • Dates
      • Times
      • Phone Numbers
      • Integers
      • Percentages
  • Text data

  • Logical data

    • Here are the values of Logical Data:
      • True
      • False
    • The above data is manipulated with logical functions that include:
      • IF
      • AND
      • OR
      • NOT

Excel Components and Terminologies

Excel comprises various components and terminologies, understanding them will enhance your proficiency in Excel usage.

  • Workbook: A file containing one or more worksheets where data is stored and manipulated.
  • Worksheet: A single spreadsheet within a workbook where data is organized into rows and columns.
  • Cell: The intersection of a row and a column, used to input, display, and manipulate data.
  • Active Cell: The currently selected cell in an Excel worksheet where data entry occurs, distinguished by a highlighted border, and indicated by its column letter and row number in the address bar.
  • Range: A group of contiguous cells selected for manipulation, often used in formulas and functions.
  • Formula Bar: A bar located above the worksheet grid where users can input or edit formulas and data.
  • Address Bar: Located to the left of the formula bar, displaying the cell reference of the active cell.
  • Worksheet Tab: Tabs located at the bottom of the Excel window, each representing a different worksheet in the workbook.
  • Filter: A feature used to display only specific rows of data in a worksheet based on user-defined criteria.
  • AutoFill: A tool that automatically extends data or formulas into adjacent cells by dragging the fill handle or using the Fill command.
  • AutoSum: A function that quickly adds up a range of numbers in a column or row, accessible through the AutoSum button or by using the keyboard shortcut Alt + =.
  • Formula: An expression that performs calculations or manipulates data, typically starting with an equals sign (=).
  • Function: A predefined formula that performs specific calculations or operations, such as SUM, AVERAGE, or IF.
  • Cell Reference: A unique identifier for a cell, typically denoted by its column letter and row number (e.g., A1, B2).
  • Workbook Views: Different display options for viewing and editing the workbook, including Normal, Page Layout, and Page Break Preview.
  • Charts and Graphs: Visual representations of data, created using Excel’s charting tools to analyze and present data trends.
  • Conditional Formatting: Formatting applied to cells based on specific conditions, making it easier to identify trends, patterns, or outliers in the data.
  • Data Validation: Rules applied to cells to control the type and range of data that can be entered, ensuring data accuracy and consistency.
  • PivotTables: Interactive tables used to summarize, analyze, and present large datasets, enabling users to extract meaningful insights.
  • Source Data: The original data used to create charts, PivotTables, or other analysis tools in Excel.
  • Named Ranges: Custom names assigned to specific cell ranges, making it easier to reference and manipulate data within formulas.
  • Macros: Automated sequences of commands and actions programmed using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) to perform repetitive tasks efficiently.

What are advanced Excel functions?

Advanced functions provide users with advanced capabilities to analyze, manipulate, and visualize data in Excel. These include the following

  • VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP: Used for vertical and horizontal lookup, respectively, to search for a value in a table and return a corresponding value from a specified column or row.
  • INDEX and MATCH: Offer more flexible lookup capabilities than VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP, allowing users to search for a value within a table and return a value from a specified column or row intersection.
  • SUMIF and SUMIFS: Calculate the sum of values in a range that meet specific criteria (SUMIF for one criterion, SUMIFS for multiple criteria).
  • COUNTIF and COUNTIFS: Count the number of cells in a range that meet specific criteria (COUNTIF for one criterion, COUNTIFS for multiple criteria).
  • IFERROR: Handle errors in formulas by replacing them with custom values or expressions.
  • ARRAY FORMULAS: Perform calculations on arrays of data, enabling advanced mathematical operations and complex data analysis.
  • PivotTable: Analyze and summarize large datasets by dynamically reorganizing and aggregating data based on user-defined criteria.
  • PivotChart: Create graphical representations of PivotTable data to visualize trends, patterns, and relationships.
  • OFFSET: Return a reference to a range that is offset from a starting cell by a specified number of rows and columns.
  • INDIRECT: Return a reference specified by a text string, allowing users to create dynamic references to other cells or ranges.
  • TEXTJOIN: Concatenate multiple text strings with a specified delimiter, ignoring any empty cells.
  • CONCATENATE: Combine multiple text strings into one, with an option to specify a separator.
  • TRANSPOSE: Rotate the orientation of a range of cells from rows to columns, or vice versa.
  • CHOOSE: Return a value from a list of values based on a specified index number.
  • DATE and TIME functions: Perform various operations on dates and times, such as adding/subtracting days, months, or years, extracting components (e.g., year, month, day), and calculating the difference between two dates or times.
  • TEXT functions: Manipulate and format text strings, including functions like LEFT, RIGHT, MID, CONCAT, TEXT, and SUBSTITUTE.

What are Excel Alternatives?

Here are the list of Excel competitors and alternatives

  • Google Sheets: Google Sheets is an online cloud-based spreadsheet app similar to Microsoft Excel that lets you create and edit spreadsheets directly in your web browser and work with other people.

  • Numbers: Numbers is a spreadsheet application developed by Apple Inc. Numbers makes it easy to create organized, professional-looking spreadsheets. However, it’s not available on Windows or Android.

  • Apache Open Office Calc: Apache OpenOffice Calc is a spreadsheet application included in the Apache OpenOffice suite. Calc provides users with tools for creating, editing, and analyzing spreadsheets, similar to Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.

File Formats supported by Excel

File formats that are supported in Excel include the following. The list is not exclusive.

Excel Workbook.xlsxThe default XML-based file format for Excel 2010 and Excel 2007. Cannot store Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macro code.
Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook.xlsmThe XML-based and macro-enabled file format for Excel 2016, Excel 2013, Excel 2010, and Excel 2007. Stores VBA macro code.
Excel Binary Workbook.xlsbThe binary file format (BIFF12) for Excel 2010 and Excel 2007.
Excel 97- Excel 2003 Workbook.xlsThe Excel 97 - Excel 2003 Binary file format (BIFF8).
Text (Tab-delimited).txtSaves a workbook as a tab-delimited text file for use on another Microsoft Windows operating system, and ensures that tab characters, line breaks, and other characters are interpreted correctly. Saves only the active sheet.
CSV (comma delimited).csvSaves a workbook as a comma-delimited text file for use on another Windows operating system, and ensures that tab characters, line breaks, and other characters are interpreted correctly. Saves only the active sheet.
OpenDocument Spreadsheet.odsOpenDocument Spreadsheet. You can save Excel 2010 files so they can be opened in spreadsheet applications that use the OpenDocument Spreadsheet format, such as Google Docs and OpenOffice.org Calc.
PDF.pdfPortable Document Format (PDF). This file format preserves document formatting and enables file sharing. When the PDF format file is viewed online or printed, it retains the format that you intended. Data in the file cannot be easily changed.
Web Page.htmlHypertext Markup Language (HTML).


In this article, we covered the broad and significant features and topics related to Excel. We briefly explained what Excel is and its functionality, components, terminologies, data types, and usage in different fields. We highlighted a set of advanced tools and functions. Lastly, we provided information about the important file formats in which Excel can save your data. We hope this information is useful to you.