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Excel 2003 vs Excel 2007: A Comparison

written by: John Garger•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 12/26/2010

With each successive release of Excel, many users ask themselves whether it is worth upgrading to the newest version. Read a comparison of Excel 2003 vs. Excel 2007 and discover whether an upgrade is worth it for you.

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    Excel 2007 is generally believed to be a jump forward for the popular spreadsheet application from Microsoft. Offering many new features, functions, tools, and toys, upgrading to Excel 2007 from Excel 2003 should be a non-brainer.

    However, some key differences have stopped some Excel 2003 owners from upgrading to the newest version. Read on to learn about the main differences between Excel 2003 and 2007 and explore whether you are ready to take the good with the bad.

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    Excel 2003 vs. Excel 2007

    Excel 2007 One of the most important changes from Excel 2003 to Excel 2007 has to do with the amount of data you can store in any one worksheet. Excel 2003 is confined to only 65,536 (2^16) rows and 256 (2^8) columns. For many of today’s large applications, this is no longer adequate.

    Excel 2007 lifts this restriction allowing 1,048,576 (2^20) rows and 16,384 (2^14) columns. If you need to store a tremendous amount of data in an Excel worksheet, you will run into storage limitations in Excel 2003.

    Excel 2007’s pivot table creation tools make this version a must if you use this feature a lot in your spreadsheets. In addition, Excel 2007 is essential if you work with others who use this version of Microsoft’s spreadsheet application.

    Although plug-ins exist to eliminate some of the problems of mixing cross-version files, the headaches just aren’t worth the effort of avoiding the cost of upgrading. For example, unlike Excel 2003, the 2007 version supports much better manipulation and storage of graphics. Excel 2007’s improved graphics tools make adding images into your spreadsheets much easier and more convenient.

    For back office users and developers, Excel 2007’s XML format makes integration with external data sources much easier. In addition, you can use Excel 2007’s calculation engine and algorithms with other applications; no such luck with Excel 2003.

    There are, of course, some negative aspects to upgrading to Excel 2007. First, while Excel 2003 uses the old but familiar drop-down and toolbar menu system, Excel 2007 utilizes the new Office 2007 Ribbon. The Ribbon has been met with mixed emotions over its usefulness. Those familiar with the original menu system will definitely see an initial slowdown in productivity until the new Ribbon system is learned. Making matters worse is the strangely missing ability to convert Excel 2007 to work and look like Excel 2003.

    Second, those who use a lot of macros are likely going to find that Excel 2007 is slower, harder to use, and outright stubborn. Some users report macros operating at significantly slower speeds in Excel 2007 vs Excel 2003, sometimes on a scale of 2, 5, or even 10 times slower. If you record many macros or intend to import them from Excel 2003 to 2007, be prepared for a variety of issues related to performance and usability.

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    Solutions to Upgrading from Excel 2003 to Excel 2007

    If cost is not an issue, consider buying Excel 2007 and installing it alongside 2003 using the custom install option. This way you retain all of Excel 2003 while exploring the different features and interface found in the newest version.

    With Office 2010’s release date quickly approaching, this may be the motivation you need to experience Microsoft’s new interface paradigm. Scheduled to be present in Excel 2010, the Ribbon is clearly an interface solution Microsoft is sticking to. Continue using Excel 2003 and you risk getting too far behind of your competitors and your colleagues.

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    Although Excel 2007 does improve on a number of key features, Excel 2003 is still the spreadsheet application of choice for many users. The new Ribbon and several key annoyances associated with macros and other features have been enough for some users to stay away from the new version of Excel. However, with Excel 2010 on the horizon, it may be time to consider giving in and embracing all the features, good and bad, that the newest versions of the spreadsheet application offer the casual and hard-core user.

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