Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet developed by Microsoft for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. It features calculation, graphing tools, pivot tables, and a macro programming language called Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). It has been a very widely applied spreadsheet for these platforms, especially since version 5 in 1993, and it has replaced Lotus 1-2-3 as the industry standard for spreadsheets. Excel forms part of the Microsoft Office suite of software.
Microsoft Excel has the basic features of all spreadsheets, using a grid of cells arranged in numbered rows and letter-named columns to organize data manipulations like arithmetic operations. It has a battery of supplied functions to answer statistical, engineering, and financial needs. In addition, it can display data as line graphs, histograms and charts, and with a very limited three-dimensional graphical display. It allows sectioning of data to view its dependencies on various factors for different perspectives (using pivot tables and the scenario manager). A PivotTable is a powerful tool that can save time when it comes to data analysis. It does this by simplifying large data sets via PivotTable fields that are also known as "the building blocks of PivotTables." It has a programming aspect, Visual Basic for Applications, allowing the user to employ a wide variety of numerical methods, for example, for solving differential equations of mathematical physics, and then reporting the results back to the spreadsheet. It also has a variety of interactive features allowing user interfaces that can completely hide the spreadsheet from the user, so the spreadsheet presents itself as a so-called application, or decision support system (DSS), via a custom-designed user interface, for example, a stock analyzer, or in general, as a design tool that asks the user questions and provides answers and reports. In a more elaborate realization, an Excel application can automatically poll external databases and measuring instruments using an update schedule, analyze the results, make a Word report or PowerPoint slide show, and e-mail these presentations on a regular basis to a list of participants. Excel was not designed to be used as a database.
Microsoft allows for a number of optional command-line switches to control the manner in which Excel starts.
Excel 2016 has 484 functions. Of these, 360 existed prior to Excel 2010. Microsoft classifies these functions in 14 categories. Of the 484 current functions, 386 may be called from VBA as methods of the object "WorksheetFunction" and 44 have the same names as VBA functions.
The Windows version of Excel supports programming through Microsoft's Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which is a dialect of Visual Basic. Programming with VBA allows spreadsheet manipulation that is awkward or impossible with standard spreadsheet techniques. Programmers may write code directly using the Visual Basic Editor (VBE), which includes a window for writing code, debugging code, and code module organization environment. The user can implement numerical methods as well as automating tasks such as formatting or data organization in VBA and guide the calculation using any desired intermediate results reported back to the spreadsheet.
VBA was removed from Mac Excel 2008, as the developers did not believe that a timely release would allow porting the VBA engine natively to Mac OS X. VBA was restored in the next version, Mac Excel 2011, although the build lacks support for ActiveX objects, impacting some high level developer tools.
A common and easy way to generate VBA code is by using the Macro Recorder. The Macro Recorder records actions of the user and generates VBA code in the form of a macro. These actions can then be repeated automatically by running the macro. The macros can also be linked to different trigger types like keyboard shortcuts, a command button or a graphic. The actions in the macro can be executed from these trigger types or from the generic toolbar options. The VBA code of the macro can also be edited in the VBE. Certain features such as loop functions and screen prompt by their own properties, and some graphical display items, cannot be recorded but must be entered into the VBA module directly by the programmer. Advanced users can employ user prompts to create an interactive program, or react to events such as sheets being loaded or changed.
Macro Recorded code may not be compatible with Excel versions. Some code that is used in Excel 2010 cannot be used in Excel 2003. Making a Macro that changes the cell colors and making changes to other aspects of cells may not be backward compatible.
VBA code interacts with the spreadsheet through the Excel Object Model, a vocabulary identifying spreadsheet objects, and a set of supplied functions or methods that enable reading and writing to the spreadsheet and interaction with its users (for example, through custom toolbars or command bars and message boxes). User-created VBA subroutines execute these actions and operate like macros generated using the macro recorder, but are more flexible and efficient.
From its first version Excel supported end-user programming of macros (automation of repetitive tasks) and user-defined functions (extension of Excel's built-in function library). In early versions of Excel, these programs were written in a macro language whose statements had formula syntax and resided in the cells of special-purpose macro sheets (stored with file extension .XLM in Windows.) XLM was the default macro language for Excel through Excel 4.0. Beginning with version 5.0 Excel recorded macros in VBA by default but with version 5.0 XLM recording was still allowed as an option. After version 5.0 that option was discontinued. All versions of Excel, including Excel 2010 are capable of running an XLM macro, though Microsoft discourages their use.
Excel supports charts, graphs, or histograms generated from specified groups of cells. It also supports Pivot Charts that allow for a chart to be linked directly to a Pivot table. This allows the chart to be refreshed with the Pivot Table. The generated graphic component can either be embedded within the current sheet or added as a separate object.
These displays are dynamically updated if the content of cells changes. For example, suppose that the important design requirements are displayed visually; then, in response to a user's change in trial values for parameters, the curves describing the design change shape, and their points of intersection shift, assisting the selection of the best design.
Additional features are available using add-ins. Several are provided with Excel, including:
- Analysis ToolPak: Provides data analysis tools for statistical and engineering analysis (includes analysis of variance and regression analysis)
- Analysis ToolPak VBA: VBA functions for Analysis ToolPak
- Euro Currency Tools: Conversion and formatting for euro currency
- Solver Add-In: Tools for optimization and equation solving
Included in Office 2016, along with a lot of new tools included in this release:
- Power Query integration
- Read-only mode for Excel
- Keyboard access for Pivot Tables and Slicers in Excel
- New Chart Types
- Quick data linking in Visio
- Excel forecasting functions
- Support for multi-selection of Slicer items using touch
- Time grouping and Pivot Chart Drill Down
- Excel data cards
Excel offers many user interface tweaks over the earliest electronic spreadsheets; however, the essence remains the same as in the original spreadsheet software, VisiCalc: the program displays cells organized in rows and columns, and each cell may contain data or a formula, with relative or absolute references to other cells.
Excel 2.0 for Windows, which was modeled after its Mac GUI-based counterpart, indirectly expanded the installed base of the then-nascent Windows environment. Excel 2.0 was released a month before Windows 2.0, and the installed base of Windows was so low at that point in 1987 that Microsoft had to bundle a runtime version of Windows 1.0 with Excel 2.0. Unlike Microsoft Word, there never was a DOS version of Excel.
Excel became the first spreadsheet to allow the user to define the appearance of spreadsheets (fonts, character attributes, and cell appearance). It also introduced intelligent cell re-computation, where only cells dependent on the cell being modified are updated (previous spreadsheet programs recomputed everything all the time or waited for a specific user command). Excel introduced auto-fill, the ability to drag and expand the selection box to automatically copy a cell or row contents to adjacent cells or rows, adjusting the copies intelligently by automatically incrementing cell references or contents. Excel also introduced extensive graphing capabilities.