For anyone who only occasionally needs to use Excel spreadsheets, the thought of buying a Microsoft Office license, even at discount rates, can seem excessive. Thankfully there are a couple of options open to you, although obviously the only perfect legal solution for 100% compatibility is to swallow the cost of the full software.
The first choice comes from Microsoft …
Microsoft Excel viewer is a free download from Microsoft and runs on all Windows versions from XP upwards.
Coming from Microsoft, this is the solution with the least amount of compatibility issues, after buying the full package. It is free and comes from a trustworthy source, so you can feel confident recommending it to clients or colleagues who need to access your spreadsheets.
The main downsides are firstly, it is a viewer only. You can not alter the spreadsheet.
Second, being Windows-only it rules out Mac and Linux users, but also you might be disappointed if for whatever reason you need to run it on older Windows computers such as ME and 2000.
If you want a full spreadsheet solution and cost is your main objection, this second choice might be your winner:
OpenOffice is a full, free, open source Microsoft Office competitor that can load many files created by Microsoft Office. As the software’s compatibility is not officially supported by Microsoft, there are no guarantees that your files will work correctly, so there could be problems with anything but literal values and very simple formulas.
Obviously, this is not just a viewing tool but a full application suite, so be prepared for a large download and for the full installation to be greedy with hard disk space!
Due to the compatibility issues with Excel formulas and macros, and the resource requirements, perhaps see it as an Excel replacement rather than a compatibility tool?
If you are short on resources, perhaps a piece of the cloud might be more ideal? …
Google has been working hard to make an online Office suite called Docs, and as expected this has a spreadsheet editor built in that can import Excel files to work with. As with Open Office, expect to deal with some compatibility issues, but the solution is free and requires no installation.
It is worth thinking about this as many IT pundits see “cloud solutions” as some kind of nirvana, as because it is web-based, and requires no install, you can access your documents from anywhere, and your clients and colleagues do not require hands-on help to get up and running. Store your documents online and work on it from anywhere for free, with backups and security handled by Google.
As with OpenOffice, it is handy for more than just spreadsheets, including a word processor, calendar, email, etc.
That said, it is no Excel-beater in terms of features, and compatibility issues do exist with Excel formulas, data types, formatting and with macros. In fact the .xlsm extension is not supported at all.
EditGrid is a free online spreadsheet editor, much like the aforementioned Google Docs. Although it is a bit of a cheat in that it does not work with Excel macros, and the .XLSM extension is not supported for imports, it does support many of the Microsoft Excel formulas.
Being a web based spreadsheet, you simply sign up (free) and get working, no installation is necessary and you can store your document online and work on it from anywhere. Online collaboration is the main feature; multiple users can even edit the same spreadsheet at the same time.
In short, if you just need to view the spreadsheet, and you are running a modern version of Windows, then use Excel Viewer for best chance of compatibility. If you wish to create and modify spreadsheets, and can get them in an open-standard, then use OpenOffice. If you wish to work on the same documents from more than one computer or store them online, use Google Docs.
Obviously this was a quick run-down of the choices we know to exist right now.
Don’t forget to check out our PDF to Excel Converter. It can save you a lot of precious time and improve your productivity.