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What's a spreadsheet?
The wikipedia article about spreadsheets

The wikipedia article about Visicalc

The wikipedia article about Lotus 1-2-3

A spreadsheet basics tutorial

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Spreadsheet is one of those words that means different things depending on the context.  Before 1979 accountants used the term to refer to a loose leaf piece from a columnar pad that could be utilised like a ledger book page to track sums and so forth.  Visicalc, the first computer spreadsheet program, was developed in that year and distributed by a company called Software Arts for the Apple II and other computers.  Visicalc mimicked the accountants' stationery by presenting a blank screen divided into rows and columns.  Where the rows and columns intersected were cells where data could be typed.  The data were of two general types: numbers or formulae to derive numeric results based on number data; or words, which were very useful for labeling the columns, rows and cells with the numeric data. Visicalc was flexible and powerful and users could set up their own worksheets to balance accounts, reckon taxes-- the possibilities were limited only by the imagination of the user.

Visicalc was at first hailed as the greatest software ever written, but was ultimately judged flawed and klunky and soon replaced by more powerful versions of the concept: Supercalc (1980), MicroSoft's MultiPlan (1982) and Lotus 1-2-3 (1983).  Spreadsheet programs began to be bundled with a word processor and related applications in office suites like AppleWorks (1984), and MicroSoft Office (1989).  The MicroSoft version, called Excel, is now so widely used that it is practically synonymous with the term 'spreadsheet.'

Folks who use a calculator will appreciate that spreadsheet files can be edited like those from a word processor, will update immediately as new data are entered, and can be printed out on paper.  Spreadsheet data can be used to generate colorful charts and graphs.  There are plenty of spreadsheet tutorials available online-- just google 'spreadsheet tutorial.'  Try clicking the tutorial link at the left and see how easy it is to get started.

The cheapest version of MicroSoft Office costs about $125 if you order it from Amazon, but there's a free and very powerful alternative office suite that's available for immediate downloading.  It's called the name is the same as the web site where you go to get it.  The spreadsheet module of that suite can be used to work on Excel files.  I encourage everyone to click the openoffice link at the left and avail yourself of these tools.  Always try to use free and low-cost software.
December 14, 2011

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