Ah, crisp structured data manipulation. We meet again.
Excel, a core tool in Microsoft’s Office Suite, has been the go-to spreadsheet application for basically everyone since it was created in the mid-1980s. (Yes, the pre-internet era.)
And for good reason: time and again, Excel offers the advanced functionality and usability needed to make complex spreadsheets look great—in a really short amount of time.
But depending on the work you need to accomplish with your spreadsheets, there may be Excel alternatives that better meet your needs. While Excel is still the industry standard for spreadsheets, it’s not for everyone.
If your workload doesn’t include workbooks with 50K+ records or creating spreadsheet-based video games (you’re welcome), you may want to make the switch to a more streamlined tool that was built for 2021.
Let’s run the numbers.
- Google Sheets
- Zoho Sheet
- LibreOffice – Calc
- Numbers (Mac only)
- Excel Online
Powerful Excel Alternatives
1. Google Sheets
Google Sheets is cloud-based, which means you can share online, edit macros with collaborators, and comment on sheets IRL. With total real-time collaboration and in-depth revision history, Google Sheets is first on this list because it’s a no-brainer Excel alternative.
Because Sheets is powered by Google, you can enjoy some advanced data operations not available in Excel (E.g. functions like =GOOGLEFINANCE, =GOOGLETRANSLATE). Check out all the G Sheet functions. But the tradeoff is that it lacks some of the AI-backed predictive data transformation features that Excel has, and some users say its harder to make tables look good quickly in sheets. Plus, many people have data protection considerations with such a big player in tech.
Best for: Teams working primarily in G-Suite, freelancers, startups, budget-conscious teams
Want to get more out of Google Sheets? Better Sheets is an online tutorial for mastering Google Sheets to solve a variety of real-world problems. Grab a $19 LTD for a limited time in the AppSumo store.
Smartsheet is a cloud-based Excel alternative for users who need to pull data from outside sources and turn spreadsheets into dashboards. It also includes productivity app functions like Gantt Chart, kanban, grid, and calendar view, allowing you to manipulate your data into easy-to-read formats.
Smartsheet also has the functions and conditional formatting features many Excel users can’t do without. Users also love the seamless access across multiple devices. Open up Smartsheet using your computer or smartphone.
Best for: Project managers; planning and data management for large teams
3. Zoho Sheet
With Zoho Sheet, you can access documents across devices, edit multiple files simultaneously, and collaborate in real-time. Users also like the auto-save and version history features. Plus, with advanced data cleaning capabilities, you can feel like your sheet is working for you—not against you.
The downside is that experienced Excel users may dislike a web-based tool like this. While it does have a robust set of functions, it doesn’t have every advanced Excel function.
Best for: Zoho CRM users who work outside the Google Suite
Price: Free for individuals up to 5GB (plans start from $2 per month [WorkDrive] or $4 per month [Docs] from there)
Cloud Database-Focused Excel Alternatives
Stackby combines the best of spreadsheets, databases, and business APIs in a single platform. With this tool, robust API and automation features mean you can automate the tedium of keeping a spreadsheet up to date. Use Stackby’s real-time metrics like views, campaign metrics, SEO keyword analysis, lead generation, GitHub user metrics, and more. Here are seven ways you can automate using Stackby.
As a popular Excel alternative, Stackby is a database-inspired tool that works for spreadsheet-natives. In general, Stackby’s modular database gives you more tools to define the relationship(s) with—and between—your data.
Best for: Marketers, agencies, and small businesses who needs a better way to plan, organize, pull data, and manage their work
Price: Stackby is normally $5 per user per month. Get the Stackby LTD for $199 annual in the AppSumo store.
Though it is a modular productivity app, Airtable allows you to create spreadsheets and use formulas for everything from basic addition to logical operations.
Use Airtable as an Excel alternative to build spreadsheets that also function as databases, turn data into kanbans, calendars, form builder, or gallery view, and collaborate in real-time across multiple tables.
While you can export data into CSV files, Airtable is totally cloud-based, so Airtable is not accessible offline.
Best for: Creatives, marketing, product/UX, project management, template libraries
You may know Notion as a hyper-trendy productivity tool akin to Evernote (which it is). But you may not be aware of Notion tables—or even the functionality to add a Google Sheet directly into a Notion doc. The limitation to this database-driven approach, according to Khe Hy, is that it doesn’t use variables. This means that formatting is attached to specific columns, not specific cells. That said, this can still work for many data workflows. (If you’re curious, check out this Notion formulas cheatsheet.)
I added Notion as an Excel-adjacent tool, because it has really advanced all-in-one info-processing and structuring capabilities that have taken the digital world by storm. Plus, if you love geeking out on Excel, you’ll find this community shares that bravado for manipulating data to improve productivity—within a tool built for 2021.
Good for: One-app-to-rule-them-all people with project-focused data processing needs
Price: Free (plans with increased storage start from $4 per month)
Open Source Excel Alternatives
EtherCalc can be self-hosted by downloading the code to your server. Otherwise, you can use it free without creating an account at ethercalc.org (hosted by Framasoft).
This tool allows you to collaborate with multiple people in real-time and download spreadsheets as .ODS, .HTML, .CSV, or .XLSX.
While EtherCalc does allow you to perform functions, it does not have more advanced functionality like conditional formatting or data filtering. In addition, it doesn’t work in mobile browsers. To its overall core, EtherCalc is a FOSS (free and open-source) project focused on the history of spreadsheets. If you need a simple spreadsheet that offers you interoperability outside the Google/Microsoft suite, this tool is worth considering.
Best for: Developers, folks looking for a free, open-source spreadsheet tool
8. LibreOffice – Calc Spreadsheet
Collabora’s LibreOffice, the successor to OpenOffice, is a well-maintained open-source Microsoft Excel alternative. The Excel alternative in their tool suite is called Calc. This free tool is accessible for both beginners and experienced Excel users. Beginners can jump quickly into a project using one of their templates. Experienced users will find advanced tools to help them pull raw data and format information for a range of calculations.
Calc is great for users who want to self-host their spreadsheets, but may be annoying for people who don’t want to download and install desktop software just to try it out.
Best for: Developers (check out their QA blog) and folks looking for a free, open-source Excel alternative
Other Top Excel Alternatives
9. Numbers (Mac only)
Numbers is a Mac-centric Excel alternative that lets users collaborate in real-time, even from PCs (if shared via iCloud or Box). Since it’s an Apple-based product, it pairs well with other Apple tools. Use Apple Pencil on your iPad, for example, to add diagrams or notes—sketched by hand.
While Numbers doesn’t have all the deep functionality of Excel, users like that it lowers the barrier to entry for using spreadsheets. Start managing data for practical projects quickly using a robust set of templates. If curious, explore Numbers’ 250+ functions.
Best for: Apple users who don’t want to deal with Excel’s steep learning curve
10. Excel Online
The elephant in the room is that Microsoft has launched Excel Online, free to use!
Excel Online has most of the features users need from Excel, including co-authoring in real-time with other users. Notably, however—without a paid Office 365 account—you’ll only get 5GB of file storage in OneDrive for free. Also, note that workbooks that are more than 50 megabytes (MB) can’t be opened in the browser. Plus, you cannot create PivotCharts, and you can’t download .CSV files.
If you’re curious, here’s the complete breakdown of Excel Online vs. Excel desktop app.
Best for: Dedicated Excel fans who want to work in the cloud
Pick Your Favorite Excel Alternative
And there you have it. Which tool looks most interesting to you?
While you’re here, be sure to check out that Stackby $199 LTD.
Sync your data automatically by linking columns to third-party apps to keep projects refreshed and up-to-date at all times. If you’re curious, check those 95+ 5-taco reviews for use case inspiration—you’ll find a lot of technical (and non-technical!) people getting really excited about this tool.
If you’re a Google Sheets user, I’d also recommend 5 Awesome Ways to Level Up Your Google Sheets: A Mini-Google Sheets Tutorial.
Over and out.