Microsoft Excel is a pretty good spreadsheet and graphing program, but its subscription can be costly. If that's a concern for you, there's a solution: there are several free, legal Excel alternatives which can read and write files in Excel format. This means that if you have existing Excel files, there's no worries - these free spreadsheet programs still work with your existing Excel files.
All of the software listed here is free and open source, meaning you can legally use it without having to register or pay. There are no ads or anything like that. There's no catch! The only thing to know is that these are less widely known than Excel. This means there might be a bit fewer tutorials out there on how to use it, but since they work pretty much the same as Excel it's easy. If you use formulas, most of the formulas are exactly the same on these alternatives as they do on Excel. You don't have to learn a whole new program.
Best free spreadsheet software
1. LibreOffice Calc
LibreOffice Calc is hands-down the best free alternative to Microsoft Excel. It's created to have exactly the same look and feel that you're accustomed to, so you'll be able to dive right in. Graphing works the same way as Microsoft Excel too. Every step is familiar and it's easy to use.
LibreOffice Calc is your number one open source Excel alternative. It's available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It's being kept up to date so you never have to worry about compatibility with your operating system.
It can read and write in Excel format. By default it will write in its own file format (.odt) - but you can override that if you prefer to have it write in Excel format. This is ideal if you plan to work on a spreadsheet or graph that will then be shared with an Excel user.
Although LibreOffice Calc is the best Excel alternative, there are other options you might like to know about.
2. Calligra Sheets
Calligra Sheets is another great free Microsoft Excel alternative.
As you can see in the image above, the menu in Calligra Sheets looks a little bit different from what you're used to in Microsoft Excel. Yet you can still do everything you did before, it might just not be quite as obvious where to go in the menus at first. Calligra Sheets is a perfectly good free spreadsheet program so it's worth trying out.
If you only use Excel for very straightforward things such as creating text tables, you may even prefer the uncluttered look of the Calligra Sheets menus. On the other hand, if you frequently use graphs or do complex operations, you may be better off with the previous option of LibreOffice Calc because it's a near drop-in replacement to Excel - you can use it exactly the same as you used Excel.
Calligra Sheets is available for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.
3. OpenOffice Calc
OpenOffice Calc is a spreadsheet and graphing program that works very similarly to Microsoft Excel. It's compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. That said, I struggled to install OpenOffice on my Linux computer, which is why there is no screenshot of it here. If you have Mac or Windows, installation will probably be plain sailing for you.
From its documentation, it looks like OpenOffice Calc may even be better than Excel in some ways, offering novel features like an Intelligent Sum button that automatically adds up a column without you needing to use the SUM formula. There's also "Scenario Manager" and "Solver", both of which allow you to examine the effects of different variables. Many of these are far more advanced than the average home user would need, although the Intelligent Sum button is something that users of all levels will love.
I wasn't able to independently test out any of these features due to the challenges of installing OpenOffice on Linux. If you don't use Linux, it's definitely worth taking a look at OpenOffice Calc.
What to do if you're debating renewing your Microsoft Office subscription or using one of these alternatives to Excel
There is a simple solution to your dilemma:
Before renewing your Microsoft Office subscription, simply try out any of these free and legal Excel alternatives mentioned above. Try it out with your existing files as you would use Excel.
Then if you're comfortable with it, stick with the free software. If for any reason the free software isn't working out well for your typical use cases, then go ahead and renew your Microsoft Office subscription. You've literally got nothing to lose by trying out these free alternatives to Microsoft Excel.
Looking for a free replacement for MS Word too? You can also find out about these free alternatives to Microsoft Word.