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A Brief History of Microsoft Excel

written by: MD Weems•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/19/2011

Ever wonder just how the vision for Microsoft Excel came about and why? How long did it take to develop into the program that we know and love today? Well, here is a brief history of Microsoft Excel to help you learn all about the program.

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    In the Beginning

    The program didn't start off being called Excel. Instead, it was a simple spreadsheet program titled Multiplan, which was released in 1982. While it was wildly popular on CP/M systems, those who used MS-DOS weren't as happy with it as they were with Lotus 1-2-3. To try to remedy that, Microsoft released it as Excel in 1985 for Mac and in 1987 for Windows, which was the first time that it was marketed under the name Microsoft Excel in the mainstream computer software market. Since Lotus 1-2-3 was a bit slow on their game to bring their program to Windows, Excel capitalized on this flaw and managed to get in and steal most of the market before Lotus ever got their program switched over. By the time that Lotus 1-2-3 managed to get its program into the mainstream Windows market, Excel was already outselling all of the competition. In fact, it was this push that gave Microsoft the edge and helped it grow into the leading software developer in the world.

    With its status firmly planted, and its sales growing in leaps and bounds, Microsoft was able to push Lotus off of its position as the top spreadsheet seller and was able to begin showing off its future visions for developing GUI software. The crew at Microsoft took full advantage of their new top position and began to produce regular releases, about every year and a half, so that users would constantly have an updated version with better features.

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    Problems for Excel

    But, with every success story comes some problems, and Excel was no different. In 1993, Microsoft Excel was the subject of a major lawsuit from another software company who was selling a product named “Excel" as well, except it was more for the financial sector. The courts decided that Microsoft had to call its product “Microsoft Excel" in all of its formal documents, such as press releases and software packaging. Although Microsoft made sure to do this, over the years the program has gone back to being called simply “Excel" once more. So, the company finally decided to go ahead and purchase the trademark of the other program that shared the Excel name.

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    Over The Years

    In the past few decades, Excel has grown and offers so many different features for users. From their earliest, simple spreadsheets to the wonderful program that it is today, there have been many changes in the overall format of the program. But, the essence of the software is still the same. In fact, just like in the very first version, Excel of today still uses the same program, called VisiCalc, which displays the cells of the sheet, organized into neat columns and rows. This program also allows users to input information into the cells, such as numbers, and reference them to other cells in the spreadsheet.

    Microsoft Excel was actually the first spreadsheet program out that actually allowed users to change up the overall look of the spreadsheet, such as the font, cell appearance, width and length. It was also the first program to give users an intelligent cell computation, which meant that users could total a number of cells together in one specific cell with a simple formula. This made the program invaluable to users, especially in the financial industry.

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    Upgrades and Updates

    While 1993 saw that major lawsuit from another company over the name of the product, it also saw one of the most successful pairings of Excel with several other great Microsoft products in one package called Microsoft Office. In this one package, Excel was paired with Word and PowerPoint to create a powerful, user-friendly suite that offered everything that a person could need in one software package.

    Since then, Excel has grown to include VBA, (Visual Basic for Applications), which is a specific programming language that is based on Visual Basic. This gives users the ability to create automatic tasks and functions in the different worksheets to make creating them easier. As Excel continued to grow and add new features, VBA became more and more important to the program, and to users. But, the automated macros that it creates leaves Excel open for several macro viruses. While this started to become a serious problem, anti-virus programs finally were updated to detect these viruses and delete them. Finally, Microsoft decided to completely prevent these problems by disabling the use of macros completely when the user opens a workbook, or they have to trust all of the macros by using a signed, trusted certificate.

    The most recent version of Microsoft Excel that was released for Windows is Microsoft Office Excel 2007, or Excel 12, and the most recent version for Mac OS is Microsoft Excel 2008. While these are the most recent updates to the programs, there are still a few bugs with macros and viruses that manage to sneak in, despite the best anti-virus software. Overall, Microsoft has transformed over the years to become one of the leading spreadsheet software programs in the world and millions of users rely on this in both their business and personal lives to keep organized.