As Word 2013 is to word processing, Excel is to spreadsheets, being the best known and widest used application of its type. Where Word has competition from WordPerfect, LibreOffice, OpenOffice Writer, and Google Docs, the equivalent spreadsheet programs in these suites don't challenge Excel and Office 2013 in the same way. See all Office software reviews.
The new features in Excel 2013 are more fundamental than those in the new Word and include things like Flash Fill and Quick Analysis. To try and make them more obvious, some now appear as pop-up icons, rather than being buried on a ribbon tab somewhere. See all: PC Advisor software downloads.
Flash Fill makes it much easier to separate out data in the form of text or dates. For example, if you have a column of full names – forenames and surnames – you have imported from another source, perhaps off the Internet, you can extract all the surnames by typing the first surname as an example and clicking Flash Fill. Excel 2013 picks out the corresponding surname from each of the other full names in the list.
In the same way, you could extract the months from a list of dates or the pounds from a financial list. You can concatenate text, too, just by giving an initial example. Flash Fill is a one-off treatment, like Excel's existing ability to fill a series of cells with the days of the week or months of the year; it doesn't put formulas into the destination cells, so if the source data changes, the extracted or concatenated data doesn't.
Quick Analysis is a way to preview and add charts or spark lines to a spreadsheet even more quickly. When you highlight cells in a column of data, an icon appears at the bottom right of the selection. This pulls up a small pane for formatting, charts, totals, tables and sparklines, and hovering the mouse over any of the icon options, previews how the data or chart will look with those options applied.
You can perform quick totals, averages and other statistics and draw bar, line and dot charts without ever committing them to your spreadsheet – though a single click will fix them on the worksheet, when you find what you want.
Excel can now recommend ways to view your data by suggesting the best choice of pivot for your pivot table. Pivot tables are not for the fainthearted, but can help reveal the underlying trends in sets of data. Knowing how to translate the data in a worksheet to give the most useful view is something which comes with experience, so it's a help to have software assistance in making the right choice.
Say you have a worksheet listing customers' details and what they've bought with you in the last year. It might be worthwhile checking if there's any correlation between their gender or where they live, and the amount they've spent. This is ideal for a pivot table and Excel 2013 should be able to suggest how best to construct it.
Excel 2013 takes on the new flat look the whole Office suite has been given, but apart from the cosmetic changes, it makes little difference to the way the application works. Collaboration is facilitated by saving a worksheet to SkyDrive and sharing it, but can then only be simultaneously accessed via the Web version of Excel. You can use the full Word and PowerPoint apps when sharing their documents in the same way.
New features in the new Excel are mainly aimed at the less experienced, to bring out the powerful analysis tools that it contains and get more people using them. There's less for the power user in Excel 2013, though Flash Fill and Quick Analysis are useful productivity snippets. Read our full Office 2013 review. For more business software reviews visit Business Advisor.