How to Create, Edit and View Microsoft Excel Documents for Free

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Microsoft Excel, part of the company's well-known Office suite, is the software application that most people think of when it comes to creating, viewing or editing a spreadsheet. First released to the public in 1987, Excel has evolved over the past three decades and now offers much more than just simple spreadsheet-related functionality. With the addition of macro support and other advanced features, it has become a very powerful tool that serves a wide range of purposes.

Unfortunately, as is the case with many other useful applications, obtaining the full version of Excel requires you to spend money. However, there are ways to open, modify and even create Excel spreadsheets from scratch without digging into your pockets. These free methods are detailed below, the majority of which support files with XLS or XLSX extensions among others.

Excel Online

Similar to its desktop counterpart in many ways, Microsoft offers a web-based version of the Office suite which includes Excel. Accessible via most browsers, Excel Online allows you to edit existing XLS and XLSX files as well as create new workbooks from scratch free of charge.

Office Online's integration with Microsoft's OneDrive service lets you store these files in the cloud, and even provides the ability to collaborate with others on the same spreadsheet in real-time. While Excel Online does not include many of the application's advanced features, including support for the aforementioned macros, users seeking basic functionality may be pleasantly surprised with this option.

Microsoft Excel App

Downloadable for both Android and iOS platforms via Google Play or the App Store, the Excel app's available features vary depending on your particular device. Android users with devices that have screens which are 10.1 inches or smaller in diameter can create and edit spreadsheets at no charge, while those running the app on larger phones and tablets will need a subscription to Office 365 if they want to do anything other than view an Excel file.

Meanwhile, iPad Pro users with larger screens (10.1" or bigger) will find themselves in a similar predicament when running the app while users of all other versions of Apple's tablet as well as those with an iPhone or iPod touch can create, edit and view Excel documents without spending a dime. It should be noted that there are some advanced features that are only accessible with a subscription, no matter which device you have.

Office 365 Home Trial

As we've mentioned above, Microsoft's free offerings like the browser-based Office suite or the Excel app limit the features that are available to you. If you find yourself in a position where you require access to some of Excel's advanced functionality but do not want your wallet to take a hit, the trial version of Office 365 may be a perfect short-term solution. Once activated, you can run the complete version of Microsoft Office Home Edition (including Excel) on a combination of five PCs and Macs along with the full-fledged Excel app on up to five Android or iOS phones and tablets. You'll need to enter a valid credit card number to start the 30-day trial, and will be automatically charged $99.99 for a 12-month subscription if you do not manually cancel before the expiration date arrives.

Office Online Chrome Extension

An add-on for Google Chrome, this handy little tool opens a fairly powerful version of Excel within the browser's main interface on all major desktop operating systems. The Office Online extension will not run without an active Office 365 subscription, but is included in this article since it will function as expected during the Office 365 free trial period.

LibreOffice

An open source software suite that can be downloaded for free, LibreOffice features an Excel alternative named Calc which supports XLS and XLSX files as well as the OpenDocument format. Although not an actual Microsoft product, Calc offers many of the same spreadsheet features and templates that are most commonly used in Excel; all for a price tag of $0.

It also contains multi-user functionality that allows for seamless collaboration, as well as several power user components including DataPivot and a comparative Scenario Manager.

Kingsoft WPS Office

The personal, free-to-download version of Kingsoft's WPS Office suite contains an application named Spreadsheets which is compatible with XLS and XLSX files and features data analysis and graphing tools along with the expected basic spreadsheet functionality. Spreadsheets can also be installed as a standalone app on Android, iOS and Windows operating systems.

A business version is available for a fee that offers advanced features, cloud storage and multi-device support.

Apache OpenOffice

Apache’s OpenOffice, one of the original free alternatives to Microsoft’s suite, has amassed hundreds of millions of downloads since its initial release. Available in over three dozen languages, OpenOffice includes its own spreadsheet application also named Calc which supports both basic and advanced features including extension and macro support along with Excel file formats. Unfortunately, Calc as well as the rest of OpenOffice may be shutting down soon due to an inactive developer community. If this happens, important updates including patches for security vulnerabilities will no longer be made available. At that point we would recommend no longer using this software.

Gnumeric

One of the only true standalone options in this list, Gnumeric is a fairly powerful spreadsheet application that is also available for free.

This oft-updated open source program supports all Excel file formats, which was not always the case, and is scalable to work with even the largest of spreadsheets.

Google Sheets

Google's answer to Excel Online, Sheets is as full-featured as it gets for a browser-based spreadsheet. Integrated with your Google account and therefore your server-based Google Drive, this easy-to-use application offers high-end functionality, a decent selection of templates, the ability to install add-ons and on-the-fly collaboration. Sheets is fully compatible with Excel file formats and, best of all, is completely free to use. In addition to the web-based version for desktops and laptops, there are also Sheets apps available for Android and iOS devices.