What is Excel?

Excel is a spreadsheet program from Microsoft and a component of its Office product group for business applications. Microsoft Excel enables users to format, organize and calculate data in a spreadsheet.

By organizing data using software like Excel, data analysts and other users can make information easier to view as data is added or changed. Excel contains a large number of boxes called cells that are ordered in rows and columns. Data is placed in these cells.

Excel is a part of the Microsoft Office and Office 365 suites and is compatible with other applications in the Office suite. The spreadsheet software is available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS platforms.

Features of MS Excel

Various editing and formatting can be done on an Excel spreadsheet. Discussed below are the various features of MS Excel.

The image below shows the composition of features in MS Excel:

Features of MS Excel

  • Home
    • Comprises options like font size, font styles, font colour, background colour, alignment, formatting options and styles, insertion and deletion of cells and editing options
  • Insert
    • Comprises options like table format and style, inserting images and figures, adding graphs, charts and sparklines, header and footer option, equation and symbols
  • Page Layout
    • Themes, orientation and page setup options are available under the page layout option
  • Formulas
    • Since tables with a large amount of data can be created in MS excel, under this feature, you can add formulas to your table and get quicker solutions
  • Data
    • Adding external data (from the web), filtering options and data tools are available under this category
  • Review
    • Proofreading can be done for an excel sheet (like spell check) in the review category and a reader can add comments in this part
  • View
    • Different views in which we want the spreadsheet to be displayed can be edited here. Options to zoom in and out and pane arrangement are available under this category

For those willing to learn more about MS Excel, can refer to the video given below and understand every small aspect of this program in detail.

History and future of Excel

Microsoft released Excel in 1985 under the name Microsoft Multiplan. Microsoft’s spreadsheet program competed with similar products at the time, including Lotus 1-2-3 from the Lotus Development Corp. Although Lotus 1-2-3 was reportedly the first spreadsheet to introduce cell names and macros, Multiplan used a graphical user interface and enabled users to point and click using a mouse. Multiplan made it easier to manipulate, process and view spreadsheet data.

Initially, Multiplan lost popularity on Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS DOS) systems when competing with Lotus 1-2-3. Two years after its initial release, in 1987, Microsoft introduced Excel version 2.0. By 1988, this new version, now on Windows platforms, began to outsell Lotus 1-2-3 and other similar spreadsheet programs.

In 1990, Microsoft released version 3 of Excel, with features such as toolbars, 3D charts, and drawing and outlining capabilities. Version 4 came along two years later and added the auto-fill function. In 1993, version 5 of Excel was released. This version included Visual Basic for Applications macros, which enabled regular tasks to be automated.

One of the next big updates to Excel was version 12, which was released in 2007. This update used a new Ribbon menu system. Improved functions included a SmartArt set of diagrams, better management of named variables and more flexibility for formatting graphs. Excel moved to using the more structured and open XLSX files as well. Version 15 released in 2013 included new tools such as Power View, Power Pivot and Flash Fill. This version also improved MULTITHREADING capabilities.

The current version of Excel, version 16, was released in 2019. Since its conception, Microsoft Excel has become one of the most widely used business applications and is often paired with other Microsoft apps such as Word, Outlook and PowerPoint. Although Microsoft no longer updates Excel as different versions, it rolls out new features and updates automatically over time.

Microsoft Excel is arguably one of the most popular spreadsheet applications and has long since played a role in businesses. However, with the popularity of other current spreadsheet software, Excel now has increased competition. The website claims that the collection of apps in Google Suite, which includes Google Sheets, is used by 2 billion users every month, whereas Microsoft Excel has an estimated 750 million to 1.2 billion monthly global users. Google and Microsoft do not publish monthly usage for either spreadsheet program, so it is difficult to estimate values.

Common Excel use cases

Excel is most commonly used in business settings. For example, it is used in business analysis, human resource management operations management and performance reporting. Excel uses a large collection of cells formatted to organize and manipulate data and solve mathematical functions. Users can arrange data in the spreadsheet using graphing tools, pivot tables and formulas. The spreadsheet application also has a macro programming language called Visual Basic for Applications.

Organizations use Microsoft Excel for the following:

  • collection and verification of business data;
  • business analysis;
  • data entry and storage;
  • data analysis;
  • performance reporting;
  • strategic analysis;
  • accounting and budgeting;
  • administrative and managerial management;
  • account management;
  • project management and
  • office administration.

Excel terminology and components

Excel has its own terminology for its components, which new users may not immediately find understandable. Some of these terms and components include the following:

  • Cell. A user enters data into a cell, which is the intersection of a column and row.
  • Cell reference. This is the set of coordinates where a cell is located. Rows are horizontal and numbered whereas columns are vertical and assigned a letter.
  • Active cell. This is the currently selected cell, outlined by a green box.
  • Workbook. This is an Excel file that contains one or more worksheets.
  • Worksheet. These are the different documents nested within a Workbook.
  • Worksheet tab. These are the tabs at the bottom left of the spreadsheet.
  • Column and row headings. These are the numbered and lettered cells located just outside of the columns and rows. Selecting a header highlights the entire row or column.
  • Formula. Formulas are mathematical equations, cell references or functions that can be placed inside a cell to produce a value. Formulas must start with an equal “=” sign.
  • Formula bar. This is the long input bar that is used to enter values or formulas in cells. It is located at the top of the worksheet, next to the “fx” label.
  • Address bar. This bar located to the left of the formula bar shows the number and letter coordinates of an active cell.
  • Filter. These are rules a user can employ to select what rows in a worksheet to display. This option is located on the top right of the home bar under “Sort & Filter.” An auto filter option can be selected to show rows that match specific values.
  • AutoFill. This feature enables users to copy data to more than one cell automatically. With two or more cells in a series, a user can select both cells and drag the bottom right corner down to autofill the rest of the cells.
  • AutoSum. This feature enables users to add multiple values. Users can select the cells they want to add and press the Alt and Equal keys. There is also a button to enable this feature on the top right of the home page, above “Fill” and to the left of “Sort & Filter.”
  • PivotTable. This data summarization tool sorts and calculates data automatically. This is located under the insert tab on the far left.
  • PivotChart. This chart acts as a visual aid to the PivotTable, providing graph representations of the data. It is located under the middle of the insert page, next to maps.

Benefits of Using MS Excel

MS Excel is widely used for various purposes because the data is easy to save, and information can be added and removed without any discomfort and less hard work.

Given below are a few important benefits of using MS Excel:

  • Easy To Store Data: Since there is no limit to the amount of information that can be saved in a spreadsheet, MS Excel is widely used to save data or to analyse data. Filtering information in Excel is easy and convenient.
  • Easy To Recover Data: If the information is written on a piece of paper, finding it may take longer, however, this is not the case with excel spreadsheets. Finding and recovering data is easy.
  • Application of Mathematical Formulas: Doing calculations has become easier and less time-taking with the formulas option in MS excel
  • More Secure: These spreadsheets can be password secured in a laptop or personal computer and the probability of losing them is way lesser in comparison to data written in registers or piece of paper.
  • Data at One Place: Earlier, data was to be kept in different files and registers when the paperwork was done. Now, this has become convenient as more than one worksheet can be added in a single MS Excel file.
  • Neater and Clearer Visibility of Information: When the data is saved in the form of a table, analysing it becomes easier. Thus, information is a spreadsheet that is more readable and understandable.

Competitive exam aspirants must also be aware of other subjects which are a part of the Government exam syllabus. To review and analyse the same, refer to the links below:


Install the Functions Translator Add-In

The Functions Translator is a Microsoft Ad-In available for free. You can install it by heading to the Insert tab and choosing “Get Add-ins” in the Add-ins section of the ribbon.

Get Add-ins on the Excel Insert tab

Enter “Functions Translator” in the Search field and the top. Then select “Add” when you see the add-in in the search results and “Continue” to install it.

Functions Translator in the Microsoft add-in store

Once the add-in installs, you’ll get a new section of the ribbon on the Home tab. On the right, look for Functions Translator and you’ll see the two tools you’ll use, Reference and Translator

When you install and open the Functions Translator for the first time using either ribbon button, you’ll see a Welcome screen in the side panel on the right. This allows you set up default To and From languages, but you can change these translation languages anytime as needed.

Select Get Started to head to the language settings. If you prefer to get right to work, you can choose “Skip” on the top right.

To set your default languages, simply select them in the drop-down boxes and click “Start Working.”

To change the languages later, select an option in the ribbon and click the gear icon in the sidebar to open the Preferences.

If you want to find a function in another language, click “Reference” in the Functions Translator section of the ribbon on the Home tab.

This sends you directly to the Reference tab in the tool’s sidebar. Use the drop-down box at the top to pick a category for the function or use “All” to see them all.

The functions  appears in alphabetical order so you can find the one you need easily. You’ll see the languages at the top of the list with From on the left and To o

For additional information about a function, select it. You’ll then see a description of the function on the Dictionary tab.

You can also use the Dictionary tab on its own to search for any function you like and see the description and corresponding function in another language.

Translate a Formula

Maybe you’d like to translate a formula, the handiest feature of the tool. Plus, you can use a few convenient options in the Translator area. Click “Translator” in the Functions Translator section of the ribbon on the Home tab.

In the sidebar, either type or paste your fomula in the box at the top. Optionally, select the delimiters you want to use.

Then, click the translate button which is the one with the arrow pointing down. You’ll then see your formula translated to the other language in the box at the bottom. You can also do the reverse if necessary and translate the opposite direction using the arrow pointing up button

To use the translated formula in your sheet, select a cell and then click the icon on the left of the translation. This appears as letters.

To automatically translate a formula in a cell, check the box at the bottom of the sidebar for Instantly Translate Selected Cell. Note the direction of the translation with the To and From languages before doing so.

Whether you need a formula in your own language from a sheet in a different dialect or want to help your team create formulas in their language, the Functions Translator in Excel is a great helper.

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