There’s a possibility that you’ve arrived at this page with the intent of pirating a copy of Microsoft Excel or Office. My post below only covers legitimate means of acquiring Excel. There are several drawbacks to using an unauthorized copy of Microsoft software: Microsoft’s anti-piracy is becoming more and more effective at preventing illegal use, pirated software and the websites they come from often contains viruses, and you won’t be able to get software updates from the Microsoft in the future. Therefore, even if you were considering pirating the software, I would still advise you to consider one of the legitimate means of downloading Excel below.
Use an Academic License
Cost: Free or heavily discounted (varies by school)
Source: University Website
There’s really only one legitimate way to download the full version of Microsoft Excel for free: through an academic license. When I went to college at the University of Washington, our college had a partnership with Microsoft that allowed all eligible students to download nearly all of the latest Microsoft programs for free. Microsoft has relationships with various with different universities, but UW has a special place both because of the fact that Bill Gates used to ride his bike through campus when he was younger.
When I came to UCLA Anderson for my MBA, I was able to download the suite for a very small fee. Most MBA programs will offer you either a free or heavily discounted copy of the software because Excel training tends to be prominent part of the MBA experience.
Obviously getting an education these days is very expensive and the software you get is just a perk. But for those of you that are already enrolled in school or planning to enroll soon, make sure to check with your University’s IT department to see if your school has a licensing agreement with Microsoft.
Join the Microsoft Home Use Program
Microsoft’s is an interesting plan that allows eligible candidates to buy Microsoft products at a very significant discount, to the point where it’s almost free. It’s offered to people who use Microsoft Office at their place of work. The intent behind the service is to leverage Microsoft’s product strength in the business community and encourage you to use the same products at home. Basically they’d prefer that you use a cheap version of Excel or PowerPoint at home, rather than try a competing product.
To be eligible, you need to be working for a company that is currently subscribed to Microsoft’s Software Assurance service. You will have to provide a work email account for the company you work for to check for eligibility. However, since most academic institutions have some licensing agreement with Microsoft, most .edu addresses will qualify you. This program technically isn’t free, but if you’re looking to upgrade your version of Excel, this deal is really hard to pass this up.
I purchased my latest copy of Office 2013 and upgraded my Excel for $9.95 through the Microsoft HUP this year.
Download a Free Trial
Limitations: 60 days of use
Microsoft allows you to download a free trial of Excel that will automatically stop working after 60 days. This option is good for people who are debating whether to use Excel or an alternative. You’ll still have full functionality in using the software and 60 days is more than enough to decide whether Excel is the right spreadsheet program for you.
If you end up not being satisfied with your Excel experience, you can definitely try one of the alternatives to Microsoft Excel.
Use Google Docs / Google Drive
Limitations: Lag issues, certain Excel features missing
Google Docs was first created as an alternative to the Microsoft Office suite, offering a stripped down, web-based version of the software. Google Docs had a spreadsheet interface, sometimes called Google spreadsheets, which acted as a substitute for Excel but was experienced entirely within a web browser. Now all of these Google services are being merged into what Google is calling Google Drive. The intent of this name change was to merge the Google Docs suite of applications with Google’s new online data storage service.
The key benefit of using Google Drive, other than the fact that it is completely free, is the software’s superior collaboration functionality. Documents and spreadsheets can be shared much more quickly and easily than with Microsoft’s traditional desktop file structure. Google documents and spreadsheets can be shared with as many people you want and multiple people can edit them at the same time. On the backend, Google saves a history of all the changes in case you need to revert to a prior version. Using a Google document can also replace the need for a Webex – rather than pay for expensive conferencing software, you and your colleagues can simply log into the same Google document and all be looking at the latest version at the same time.
The key disadvantages with using Google Drive is that, despite improving significantly since its launch, the spreadsheet application of Google Drive still does not have all the functionalities of Microsoft Excel. If you tend to use a lot of charts or macros in your spreadsheets, you’ll find the options within Google Drive somewhat lacking. Additionally, because Google Drive is completely web based, you’ll find that larger spreadsheets with several formulas tend to lag when using them.
If you have a Gmail account, then you already have a Google Drive account. To access it, simply go to your Google Drive homepage using the link above. To create a new spreadsheet document, click the red “Create” button to open up a menu and then click “Spreadsheet” within that menu
Limitations: Open source software, certain Excel features missing
OpenOffice is as the name suggests open source software and represents another free alternative to buying Excel. In general, whenever you use open source software, it tends to be buggier than the paid version and you’ll have little to no technical support. As the open source model has evolved, however, these issues have become much less prominent than they were in the past.
If you’ve considered all the alternatives above and none of them suit you, you should probably consider just buying the software. Having reached this point, there are still some ways to minimize the amount you end up paying.
Go Through the Microsoft Software Donation Program
Cost: $20-$30per license
Limitations: License limit of two years
If you’re working on behalf of a library or non-profit organization, you may be eligible to participate in Microsoft’s Software Donation program. The amount you end up paying will depend on the number of licenses you order, but you’ll still get the Microsoft software, including Excel, at a very steep discount. To use this service, you must go through Microsoft’s Volume Licensing website and licenses you purchase are limited to a term of two years.
Buy Excel as Part of Microsoft Office
Cost: $399.99 (as of this posting)
Microsoft makes it exorbitantly expensive to buy a copy of Excel all by itself. If you’re planning to buy Excel, make sure you buy it as part of the entire Microsoft Office suite. Even if you don’t foresee ever using the non-spreadsheet programs, there’s a good chance that the other programs can benefit you, for example if you need to paste an Excel object Word or PowerPoint. The Professional edition of Office includes:
Buy the Home & Student Version of Office
Cost: $124.99 (as of this posting)
The Home and Student version of Microsoft Office removes some programs from the suite, but still gives you the most essential tools. The three removed programs are definitely not as popular. The Home and Student version includes the following programs: