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Software on windows: Excel  Lotus 1-2-3
Software on Linux: Free Spreadsheets Commercial Spreadsheets

If you have worked with Windows programs before, you already know a lot about Excel's window. It has all the normal window parts, like the status bar, title bar, scroll bars, menu bar. The Excel window is actually a lot like what you saw in Word. If you are not familiar with Word, you should consider working at least the first project of Working with Words before continuing.

What's Old, What's New

Click the image below of the Excel window to see what parts of the interface are different from MS Word.

  • Menu: new item  Data.
  • Standard toolbar: New buttons  New buttons on Standard bar
  • Formatting bar:   New buttons   New buttons on Formatting bar
  • Formula bar
  • Document body: all numbered rows and lettered columns.
  • Document window: tabs at the bottom and a new set of arrows beside them.
  • Missing:
    • The Styles box
    • other Word buttons  
    • the rulers

Excel window - standard parts labeled
Click the image to see what's different

The Excel Window

Excel Interface - labeled



Document that is entirely made up of rows and columns. Used to list and analyze data.

To add to the confusion in the world, people tend to use the word spreadsheet in two ways: 

  • the entire Excel workbook file
  • an individual worksheet 
workbook The basic document for Excel.
Its filename uses the extension xls, from Excel spreadsheet. A workbook usually contains several worksheets.
worksheet A single sheet of data. One or more worksheets make a workbook. Think of them as pieces of paper that are stacked on top of each other to form the workbook.

The maximum number of worksheets in a workbook depends on your computer’s memory. The default workbook can have up to 255 worksheets

A worksheet, also called just a sheet or spreadsheet, can have up to 256 columns and 65,536 rows with up to 32,000 characters in a single cell. This is enough for most purposes! Smiley face But it does mean that you can’t easily use Excel to write a novel.

workbook window The document window in an Excel window.
cell Intersection of a row and a column on a worksheet
sheet tab

Each worksheet has a tab at the bottom of the workbook window with the name of the worksheet on it.

Tabs for workbook budget.xls


active worksheet   The worksheet that receives your keystrokes and commands. It has a white tab and its name is bold. 
workspace The area below the toolbars that holds your documents

The default workbook is named Book1. It contains three worksheets, named Sheet1, Sheet2, Sheet3. You will want to change these to something more interesting and helpful!

The Worksheet & Formula Bar

Worksheet - labeled
Parts of a worksheet


Columns Named with letters in the following pattern: A, B, C,…Z, AA, AB, AC,…AZ, BA, BB, BC,…BZ, CA,…IA, IB,…IV, which is the last possible column.
Rows   Named with numbers from 1 to 65,536.
headings  The gray buttons at the top of columns and at the left end of rows 
cell   the intersection of a column and a row

cell reference or 
relative reference

 The usual way we refer to a cell, using the letter of the cell’s column followed by the number of the cell’s row, like B3 or AD345. 
Name Box   at the top left above the sheet. Used to display cell references and to give and display cell names.
Formula bar shows the contents of a selected cell, whether it is plain text, numbers, or a calculation formula. Sometimes the whole bar containing the Name Box and the formula text box is called the Formula bar. Sometimes just the formula text box is meant. 
formula   Looks rather like an algebra equation, like =SUM(A4:D7) or =AVERAGE(C3, F5, H10). Most formulas use cell references to get the values to calculate with.
absolute reference When you don’t want the cell reference to change as things are moved around, you must use an absolute reference, by putting a $ in front of both the column letter and the row number, like $B$3 or $AD$345.
active cell Selected cellHas a dark border around it and New for 97 the row and column headers are raised, like buttons. This is the cell that receives your keystrokes and commands. You make a cell the active cell when you select it, by clicking it or by moving into it with keys. The TAB or the arrow keys are handy for moving from cell to cell.
enter data Select the cell, type your data, and press the ENTER key. What you typed is now contained in the cell. 
range   selected rangeA rectangular set of cells, referred to by using the upper left and lower right cell references with a colon between them, like A1:B2 for the range illustrated at the right. The absolute reference for the range would be $A$1:$B$2. You select a range by dragging, for example from the upper left cell to the lower right cell. As you drag, the Name Box shows the number of rows and columns that are selected. Once you quit dragging, the Name Box displays the upper left cell.
gridlines The gray lines that form the cells. By default they don’t print. 

Gridlines checkbox in Print dialogIf you want to print the gridlines, there is a checkbox in the Page Setup dialog (  File  |  Page Setup  |  Sheet  ).

TipCool feature: If you move the contents of a cell, any formula that contains a relative reference to that cell is changed to match the new cell reference. A very handy feature - most of the time.

WarningOver-writing cell contents: If you select a cell and start typing, what you type replaces what is already in the cell! To edit what is already in the cell, double-click the cell. Then you can use the same editing methods you’ve used in Word- arrow keys to move the cursor, BACKSPACE and DELETE keys to remove characters, etc. This is called "editing in place". You can also select the cell and then click in the Formula bar and edit there. This is the only way older spreadsheets will allow you to work with the data. Data was only displayed in the cell. Typing had to be done in the Formula bar. Awkward!

TipHidden contents: What happens when the data in a cell is wider than the cell? The contents of a cell will overlap the cell to the right if that cell is empty. If the cell to the right is not empty, what you see in the cell will be cropped to fit the size of the cell that it is in. None of the cell data is lost. You just can't see it. Cells A2 and B3 below have text that overlaps the empty cells to the right. But A3 shows only what will fit. Compare what you see in cell A3 to what is in the Formula bar. The Formula bar shows all the text in the selected cell.  You will learn what to do about this awkward situation later.

cells with overlapping text

Note: This page is modified from Jan's Excel Intro .