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What Is Microsoft Excel?

Click here for a full summary of this crucial data management tool, from uses to terminology and components.

Reviewed By: Kevin Pocock

Last Updated on January 17, 2024
What Is Microsoft Excel?
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Released in 1985, Microsoft Excel (originally named Multiplan) is one of the oldest and most effective software programs on your computer.

Simple in concept and endlessly intricate in execution, it has helped countless individuals and companies manage their integral data efficiently. So, what is Microsoft Excel?

Defining Microsoft Excel

At its core, Excel is a spreadsheet program, but that’s an extremely reductive way of putting it. Composed of cells and backed by multiple customizable parameters, a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet can be fine-tuned to suit the specifics of almost any numerical data management style.

Defining Microsoft Excel

How Do You Use Microsoft Excel?

As you can see from the picture above, an Excel spreadsheet is made up of columns and rows composed of cells. The general idea is that you’ll enter data into the cells and manage it using pivot tables, graphing tools, and formulas.

You can also utilize Visual Basic for Applications, which is a macro programming language, giving you even more comprehensive control over how your data is manipulated.

What Is Microsoft Excel Used For?

In a nutshell, Excel organizes numbers via the use of formulas and functions. It’s most prominently used as a tool for financial analysis, but it’s also perfectly capable of crunching numbers pertaining to the central functionality of an organization.

Let’s take a look at a list of Microsoft Excel and its applications:

  • Operations management & performance reporting
  • Accounting, budgeting, & general financial analysis
  • Financial modeling
  • Programming
  • Task management
  • Time management
  • CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
  • Human resource management
  • Strategic analysis
  • Administrative management

Where Is Microsoft Excel?

Excel is a constituent of the Microsoft Office ecosystem, which is a software collective designed from the ground up to help build businesses, well… from the ground up!

Most recently, it was included in Office 365 suites in which it can be used as a discrete program or in conjunction with other Office 365 applications, creating a synergy between software that significantly expands functionality.

Although Excel is a Microsoft product, it’s available across most major operating systems, including Windows (obviously), macOS, iOS, and Android.

Basic Excel Terminology And Components

To get you started on this excellent software, let’s take a look at some Excel essentials…

  • Cell: As mentioned earlier, cells are where individual bits of data are entered.
  • Cell Reference: These are coordinates that tell you where a certain cell is located in the spreadsheet. Rows are numbered and columns are lettered: sort of like a chessboard!
  • Active Cell: This is simply the cell that is currently selected, indicated by a green outline.
  • Worksheet: Excel documents
  • Worksheet tab: Tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet that allow you to switch between worksheets
  • Workbook: The folder in which a collection of worksheets are nested
  • Column/row headings: Numbered and lettered cells around the perimeter of the spreadsheet. The labels will correspond with cell references.
  • Formula bar: Located at the top of the spreadsheet, this long bar allows you to input values and formulas.
  • Address bar: Situated to the left of the formula bar, the address bar gives you the coordinates of your active cell.
  • Filter: Found in the top right of the home bar, this feature is used to highlight specific sections of a worksheet — especially helpful if your database is getting quite large.
  • AutoFill: Essentially a specialized copy & paste function, so you don’t spend hours filling in multiple cells with identical data.
  • AutoSum: Automatically adds up columns of data
  • PivotTable: A data summarization tool situated beneath the insert tab.
  • PivotChart: Visual aid – graphs PivotTable data
  • Source data: The info used to formulate your PivotTable, i.e…

Final Thoughts

Microsoft Excel is by no means the only data management spreadsheet software out there, but due to the openness, expandability, and intuitive nature of Excel, we think it’s the most essential!

Kevin is the Editor of PC Guide. He has a broad interest and enthusiasm for consumer electronics, PCs and all things consumer tech - and more than 15 years experience in tech journalism.