If you want to create and manage spreadsheets, one app probably comes to mind straight away: Excel.
Microsoft first released it all the way back in 1985, a couple of years after Word but shortly before PowerPoint. All three have gone on to revolutionise the way we produce digital content.
But in the almost four decades since, a lot has changed. The most obvious way to start using Excel nowadays is via a Microsoft 365 subscription, although standalone versions of all these apps are released every few years.
However, it’s still possible to access Excel completely free of charge, and all three methods in this article are officially approved by Microsoft. Here’s everything you need to know.
Use the web version
Using Microsoft Excel and other core Office programs is free via the web, and all you’ll need is a Microsoft account.
Head over to Office.com and click ‘Sign in’ to enter your details. If you don’t yet have an account, choose ‘Sign up for the free version of Office’ and follow the instructions.
Anyron Copeman / Foundry
Once that’s complete, you’ll be taken to your main office homepage. From the left pane, choose ‘Create’ then ‘Workbook’ to open a new spreadsheet.
Anyron Copeman / Foundry
As you can see, there’s also the option to create documents in Word and PowerPoint here, alongside Outlook and a free version of Microsoft Teams. These are all ‘Web Apps’, meaning you can only use them via your browser and not a desktop app. When you work on a file here, it will be saved to OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service – everyone gets 5GB for free.
In fact, you probably have Google to thank for this software being available in web app form, as its free Docs and Sheets software and their integration with Google Drive made it difficult for Microsoft to keep asking users to pay.
Check out our guide to the
best cloud storage services to see how both compare to the rest of the competition.
The web version of Excel is a more stripped-back version of the software, so the comparison to Google Sheets is fairly like for like. Nonetheless, both services should provide everything a casual user is looking for.
Use on mobile
Perhaps again in response to Google, Microsoft’s Office mobile applications are completely free and available across most modern smartphones, tablets and even foldables.
You can download the Microsoft Excel app for Android and iOS. Microsoft understandably reserves some premium features for its Microsoft 365 subscription, but the mobile apps are still very capable and offer integration with OneDrive.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
Check if your school or workplace gets it free
Many employers offer Microsoft 365 apps to their employees free of charge. Even if your work email address ends with the name of the company, it could still be used to sign into a Microsoft account. Head to office.com, click sign in and see if there’s an account linked to your email address.
If your school has signed up to Microsoft 365 Education, all staff and students should be able access Office apps for free. To check, enter your education email address on the Microsoft website.
But if your school isn’t yet signed up and you’re in a position to change that, you can begin the sign-up process.
Pay full price
However, these free options aren’t suitable for everyone. If you need more than just basic Excel functions and the app isn’t available to you via school or work, the only alternative is to pay full price.
At the time of writing, the cheapest Microsoft 365 subscription is Personal, which $6.99/£5.99 per month or $69.99/£59.99 per year. Stepping up to the Family plan gets 2-6 people access for $9.99/£7.99 per month or $99.99/£79.99 per year. Both offer a one-month free trial.
Your other option is to pay for Office 2021, the latest standalone release. This is a one-off payment of $149.99 in the US or £119.99 in the UK. Unfortunately, there’s no way to pay for Excel on its own – it’s bundled with Word and PowerPoint here.
Learn more in our full Microsoft 365 buying guide.