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Microsoft includes a free browser-based version of Excel in its Office Online collection. Credit The New York Times
Q. I am confused by all the variations of the Microsoft Office programs offered these days. If I just want to use Excel (and maybe Word) on my PC, what’s the least expensive way to get it?
A. The current array of variations of the Microsoft Office suite and its core trio of productivity programs (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) can be overwhelming. Microsoft offers separate versions of the software for different types and numbers of users — as well as different ways to pay for them. Before you get out the credit card, first decide how and where you want to use Microsoft Excel, and then find a variation that meets your needs.
If you are looking for the least expensive way to get the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program, the company includes a free browser-based version of the software in its Office Online collection. To use Excel Online, you need to sign in with a free Microsoft Account, or an account assigned to you by your school or employer.
With this version, you do not need to install any software on your computer because you work right in your browser to create, edit, collaborate and store your files. You can store a file on Microsoft’s OneDrive server or download it to your computer; however, to use a downloaded file you need to have some version of Excel or a program that can open Excel files, and not all of the spreadsheet’s functions may work after downloading. Because the software lives online, you can get to your files from mobile devices and other computers when you sign in with your Microsoft account.
If you do not want to rely on having a consistent internet connection to use Microsoft Excel or want more features, you can choose instead between subscribing to the Office 365 service or buying a personal copy of Excel 2016 (or even the full Microsoft Office 2016 suite that includes Word and PowerPoint) to install on your computer.
Office 365 charges a monthly subscription fee (starting at about $7 a month for the Personal edition), but when you sign up for the service, Microsoft makes sure you always have the latest versions of its Office programs, as well as tech support and extra online storage. Several Office 365 plans are available, with different variations for home users, students and businesses.
If you do not want to have a recurring bill, you can buy the current version of the software and pay all at once up front; the noncommercial edition of Excel 2016 sells for about $80 on Microsoft’s site and the full Office 2016 collection starts at about $150. In most cases, you download your copy from Microsoft’s servers. Unlike with Office 365, if a new version of a program is released, you do not automatically get it and will probably have to buy it outright.
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