Welcome to Swiss Army Spreadsheets!

Most people have access to a spreadsheet program.  Microsoft bundles Excel into its Office suite, OpenOffice has Calc, Google Docs has “spreadsheets”, and so on.  For a great many people, however, the spreadsheet program is one they never open.  Many people, even if they do use spreadsheets, consider them to be some sort of infinitely large table and not much good for anything else.

Despite popular opinion, though, spreadsheets can be used for a wide variety of purposes.  They’re the Swiss Army knife of the software world.  People sometimes either buy an expensive, specialized program or simply do without when all they really need is a spreadsheet and a little creativity.  As examples, I have in the past made spreadsheets that graphically illustrated available space on library shelves, calculated a variety of monthly statistics quickly and easily, extracted data from emails, verified data validity, and even written computer code!

When I talk to people about this sort of thing I get one of two reactions — either “Is that really possible?” or “Yes!  I love doing that!”  Since the first reaction outnumbers the second reaction by something like four to one, I thought I would make this blog to help show people the possibilities and explain how to do some of them.

I’ll do my best to explain how to do everything in four different programs: OpenOffice, Google Docs, Excel 97, and Excel 2007.  I’m choosing these four programs because they’re what I have easy access to, and most people will have easy access to at least one of them.  Excel 97 is, obviously, old, but I want to emphasize that the things I demonstrate here are not only available with the newest program and the latest bells and whistles.

So, welcome!  I hope this blog is helpful to you.  If you have any questions or want me to address particular topics or ideas, please leave a comment!