If you've just bought a new Mac, you'll have Numbers (along with Pages and Keynote) ready for all your productivity needs.
However, they aren't the only options for digital number-crunching. As well as the obvious choice in Microsoft Excel, there are other programmes, apps and software for the Mac that you may want to consider depending on your requirements.
We've used all the alternatives to Numbers here, so read on for a break down of the your choices when it comes to keeping the books balanced.
Apple Numbers 3.6.1
Number-Crunching: Numbers is a good example of how the best Apple software takes difficult tasks and makes them look easy. As soon as you type '=' into a cell, the Inspector palette on the right-hand side of the spreadsheet displays a list of available functions, and to help new users get started it even displays explanations and examples of how to use each function.
Numbers doesn't have the sheer range of functions that you'll find in Excel, or support for advanced features such as pivot tables, but it provides a good basic set of functions that will be useful for home users, education and small businesses. And, of course, Numbers also allows you to import and export spreadsheets in Excel format if you need to.
Graphs And Charts: Apple describes numbers as "the most beautiful spreadsheet ever", and it does put a lot of emphasis on its graphics tools. A Numbers spreadsheet is really just a blank page where you can place data tables, text and graphics in any layout that you choose. The program includes tools for quickly creating 2D and 3D graphs and charts, and even interactive charts that can include simple animations to illustrate changes in data.
Collaboration: You can share your spreadsheets online with other people by using the online version of Numbers at www.icloud.com, and the online program can warn you if there are conflicts between changes made by different people. (Read more here: How to open Apple Numbers files on a Windows PC.)
However, you can't track changes made to a spreadsheet, and Numbers lacks the more comprehensive collaboration tools found in Google Sheets and Microsoft's Office Online.
Pros: Free with new Macs, lots of help for new users, simple tools for creating charts and attractive layouts
Cons: Fewer functions and analytical tools than Excel, limited collaboration tools
Update 16 September 2016: Since our review, Apple has added real-time collaboration to its iWork suite. We're pleased to see an update to the iWork suite, as real-time collaboration will help those working in teams, such as global teams in businesses and even students taking part in university group projects.
The new version brings the following collaboration updates (among others):
- Edit a spreadsheet with others at the same time in Numbers on Mac, iPad, iPhone, and iCloud.com
- Share your spreadsheet publicly or with specific people
- See who else is in a spreadsheet
- See participants’ cursors as they’re editing
Further information and alternatives to Apple's productivity tools:
Microsoft Excel 2016
Number-Crunching: Excel is the big-daddy of spreadsheet software, used by businesses all over the world and with hundreds of functions and features crammed into its Ribbon toolbar.
The sheer range of features built into Excel can seem daunting, but it includes dozens of templates to help you get started, including spreadsheets for home and personal use, business budgets, time-tracking and invoicing. The Formula tab on the Ribbon includes a pull-down menu that quickly lists standard functions, along with a Formula Builder for creating your own functions and formulae. A second tab on the Ribbon provides more advanced tools such as pivot tables and linking to external data sources such as Filemaker or corporate databases, and even HTML web pages.
Graphs And Charts: Even Numbers has to tip its hat to the sheer variety of graphs and charts included in Excel. The Charts tab on the Ribbon includes standard options such as bar, area, pie and scatter charts. However, each type of chart also has a separate pull-down menu that includes many additional variations, such as 3D charts, exploded pie charts, or stacked area charts. Excel also includes a special type of chart, called Sparklines, that can help to highlight trends within dense collections of data.
Collaboration: There are plenty of ways to collaborate with Excel. The Review tab on the Ribbon allows you to track changes made to a spreadsheet, and to control the level of access that you provide to other users. Larger organisations can set up their own servers for in-house collaboration using Microsoft’s SharePoint software, but you can also upload documents to the OneDrive cloud storage service, or use Microsoft’s Office Online suite of web apps.
Pros: Unrivalled range of spreadsheet features and functions, comprehensive collaboration tools, attractive graphing tools
Cons: Expensive, complicated for beginners
Number-Crunching: Google Docs includes a number of great features, including many additional functions and new ‘filter views’ that allow you to hide certain data in order to focus on just the key data within the spreadsheet. There’s a handy ‘quicksum’ feature that automatically works out the total of a set of selected cells, along with a ‘range-selection’ mode that helps you to quickly select a set of cells for your formula. However, Google Docs doesn’t provide as much help for newcomers as Pages, so you do need to be familiar with spreadsheet work and to know the basic functions that you’re likely to need.
Graphs And Charts: Google Docs doesn’t have the eye-catching 3D graphs and charts of Numbers, but it does include a quick and easy Chart Editor. This can create a variety of common charts, including bar charts and pie and scatter charts. There are some useful extras here too, such as the ability to superimpose charts over a map, or to create flowcharts and org charts.
Collaboration: Online collaboration is a strong point with all of Google’s online apps – although it helps if the people you’re sharing with also have Google accounts of their own. You can display your spreadsheet publicly on the web, just send email invitations to specific people, or set up a Google Group for regular collaborators. You can add comments to your spreadsheet, and there’s a Revision History option that lets you view previous versions of your spreadsheet.
Pros: Free, good features for sharing and collaboration
Cons: Full collaboration features require a Google account, not ideal for beginners
Apache OpenOffice Calc
Number-Crunching: Calc is the spreadsheet program within the free OpenOffice suite. It looks a bit like a mash-up of Numbers and Microsoft Excel, as there’s a large ‘side-deck’ palette on the right-hand side of the screen that is similar to the Inspector palette in Numbers, along with a densely populated toolbar like the Excel ribbon that runs across the top of each document. That cluttered interface might be a bit intimidating for new users but, like Numbers, it does help you out by providing information about all the available functions in the side-deck palette. One useful feature is the Detective option, which helps you to work with complex formulae by showing the relationships linking data cells and formulae.
Graphs And Charts: The graphs and charts in Calc aren’t as pretty as those of Numbers, but the program’s Chart Wizard guides you easily through the process of selecting a chart type, selecting data and then modifying elements such as titles and labels for the X and Y axis. The Wizard includes the usual bar, pie, line and scatter charts, and there are options that let you add transparency and simple 3D perspective effects to your charts.
Collaboration: Calc does include a review function that allows it to record changes made to a document by different people. However, each person needs to work on their own separate copy of the spreadsheet, using their own copy of OpenOffice. There’s no option for simultaneous online collaboration as there is with Numbers and some of its other rivals.
Pros: Free, extensive set of functions, simple Chart Wizard
Cons: Cluttered interface, limited collaboration options
Number-Crunching: It’s no coincidence that the LibreOffice spreadsheet is called Calc – just like that of OpenOffice – as both software suites share the same open-source roots. Not surprisingly, the two programs also share many of the same features and functions, as well as similar formatting palettes and toolbar layouts.
Calc’s main toolbar includes options for quickly sorting data in cells, SUM calculations, and correcting decimal point placing. For more advanced work there’s a Function Wizard that quickly lists the entire range of available functions, and also helps you to create and structure more complex functions and formulae of your own.
Graphs And Charts: The Chart Wizard in LibreOffice Calc is almost identical to the one found in OpenOffice. It includes a good selection of two-dimensional bar, column, pie and scatter charts, along with a ‘3D Look’ option that allows you to add simple 3D perspective effects. You can also liven up your charts by applying transparency or graduated tint effects, and if things get a bit untidy you can just hit the Reset button to revert to one of the standard chart types.
Collaboration: Like OpenOffice, LibreOffice focuses more on offline collaboration. You can send copies of your spreadsheets to other people, and each user can record the changes they make within their own copy. There’s an option for comparing different versions of a document, and if you approve the changes that have been made you can import those changes and merge them into your own copy of the spreadsheet. However, you can’t collaborate online with other people all working on the same version of a document.
Pros: Free, Function Wizard assists with complex functions, simple chart tools
Cons: No online collaboration, few features to differentiate it from OpenOffice
Panorama Sheets 6.0
Number-Crunching: Developer ProVue is well-known for its powerful Panorama database, and Panorama Sheets is a simpler version designed for home users and small businesses. Like its big brother, Panorama Sheets presents database information in a spreadsheet format that makes it easy to quickly browse, search and sort through your data.
You start work by defining the fields in your database, such as the names and addresses of your customers, or the members of a local sports club. Panorama Sheets then presents you with a blank spreadsheet into which you can insert the necessary data. You can create fields that perform calculations, and the program does include a wide range of mathematical, scientific and financial functions similar to those you might find in a conventional spreadsheet. And, like any database it also allows you search and sort information quickly, perhaps locating customers who share the same post-code, or club members who haven’t paid their subscription fees.
This combination of database and spreadsheet features can be a little confusing if you’re not already familiar with database concepts, but it’s one of the better options for simpler database work since FileMaker scrapped Bento last year.
Graphs And Charts: Panorama Sheets is very efficient at storing and sorting your data, but it’s pretty basic from a graphical point of view. There are no options for creating graphs and charts, and it lacks the attractive graphics and layout tools that Bento used to provide.
Collaboration: Panorama Sheets is very much a single-user product, but it does provide the option of upgrading to other products in the Panorama range as your business grows, including Panorama Server for sharing data across an organization.
Pros: Simple database program that presents data in spreadsheet format, wide range of functions and sorting tools
Cons: Emphasis on database features, limited graphics and layout features, complex for beginners.
Number-Crunching: At first glance, Smartsheet might look like a fairly conventional spreadsheet, but it’s actually a collaborative project management tool. Its designers decided to use the columns-and-rows format of a spreadsheet simply because most people already understand how spreadsheets work. Smartsheet documents – known as ‘sheets’ – can be used to store information, such as a series of tasks, dates and names of the people involved, and to share that information online with your colleagues.
It doesn’t provide the same range of mathematical functions that you’d find in dedicated spreadsheet, but Smartsheet does allow you to attach additional files to individual rows within a sheet, including wordprocessor documents, PDF files, and more detailed spreadsheets if required.
Graphs And Charts: Smartsheet isn’t a conventional spreadsheet, so it doesn’t provide tools for converting data into graphs and charts like rivals such as Excel or Numbers. However, it can be used to create ‘Gantt charts’ that are used in project management, and you can attach proper spreadsheets and charts to rows along with other types of information.
Collaboration: Smartsheet provides plenty of options for collaborating with colleagues. The creator of a sheet document can publish it openly on the web, or simply send invitations to specific colleagues. You can also decide whether to share the entire sheet, or just a set of files attached to one particular row. Pricing depends on the size of your organization, with subscription prices starting at £84 per year for a single-user license that allows you to collaborate with an unlimited number of colleagues. There’s also a free iOS app that you can use as well.
Pros: Versatile project-management tool based around familiar spreadsheet concepts, designed for collaboration
Cons: Requires a subscription, lacks the number-crunching power of a true spreadsheet
Number-Crunching: Soulver isn’t a true spreadsheet program like Numbers or Excel – in fact, it doesn’t even use cells like a spreadsheet at all. However, it’s a handy tool for performing simple calculations that don’t require the complexity of a spreadsheet.
A Soulver document just looks like a blank page that is divided into two columns. The left-hand column allows you to type simple notes and calculations – such as ‘3 nights at £50 per night’, or ‘£50 in US dollars’ – and the answer will then appear in the right-hand column. It doesn’t have the range of functions that you’d find in a proper spreadsheet, but Soulver can perform a number of trigonometry calculations and allows you to create variables or use operators such as brackets within your calculations. Soulver can also track share prices – though it needs an Internet connection for updates – and can convert currencies, distances and weights, so it’s a good alternative to a basic calculator. The Mac version is a little pricey at £7.99, but there’s a free trial available and there’s also an iOS version that costs just £2.29.
Graphs And Charts: Soulver has some simple formatting tools that allow you to highlight different elements within a calculation, but there are no tools for converting data into graphs or charts.
Collaboration: You can save Soulver documents as PDF, CSV, HTML or text documents, which might be handy for sharing your notes with other people. However, Soulver is really just a personal calculator and doesn’t provide any options for collaborating on documents with others.
Pros: Good for quick calculations, tracks shares, converts currencies, weights and distances
Cons: Mac version is expensive, no charts or collaboration features