The electronic spreadsheet has been in existence since 1978, but it was 1982 that Microsoft became involved.

The first major leap occurred in 1978 when VisiCalc was created by Dan Bricklin, a student at Harvard Business School. It was basic software, capable of producing a spreadsheet of only 5 columns by 20 rows. Bob Frankston partnered with Bricklin to create the version that eventually hit the markets and became a major success.

The next major spreadsheet success after VisiCalc was Lotus 1-2-3, created by a team headed by Mitch Kapor in 1983. Lotus 1-2-3 improved on VisiCalc by including charting and basic database functions in addition to VisiCalc’s calculation capabilities. It became a huge success, far outshining VisiCalc.

In 1982, while major progress was being made by Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft developed their own spreadsheet application called MultiPlan. Developed to work on CP/M and MS-DOS based systems it was roundly beaten by Lotus 1-2-3 on MS-DOS based platforms.

MultiPlan was improved, then in 1985 was renamed Excel and, for the first time, included a graphical interface. It was usable only on the Apple Mac, which first came into production in 1984.

After Microsoft produced (and stabilised) the Windows operating system, Excel was re-engineered for this new platform and in 1987 Microsoft produced the first version of Excel for windows, called Excel 2.0.

Here’s a timeline created by John Walkenbach at his excellent website We recommend you bookmark John’s site – as well as being the author of many authoritative books on Excel, it’s an excellent resource for Excel users.


11985Version 1, for the Macintosh was released.
21987The first Windows version was labelled “2” to correspond to the Mac version. This included a run-time version of Windows.
31990Included toolbars, drawing capabilities, outlining, add-in support, 3D charts, and many more new features.
41992The first “popular” version. Included lots of usability features.
51993A major upgrade. Included multi-sheet workbooks and support for VBA.
7*1995Known as Excel 95. The first major 32-bit version of Excel**. Feature-wise, it’s very similar to Excel 5.
81997Known as Excel 97. A new interface for VBA developers, UserForms, data validation, and lots more.
91999Known as Excel 2000. Can use HTML as a native file format, “self-repair” capability, enhanced clipboard, pivot charts, modeless user forms.
102001Known as Excel 2002, this is part of Office XP. It has a long list of new features, but most of them will probably be of little value to the majority of users. Perhaps the most significant feature is the ability to recover your work when Excel crashes.
112003It’s called Microsoft Office Excel 2003.

The new features in this version are: (a) improved support for XML, (b) a new “list range” feature, (c) Smart Tag enhancements, and (d) corrected statistical functions. Most users will not find the upgrade worthwhile.

122007Finally, some major changes in Excel. For some, the changes may actually be too major.
14 2010New features include sparkline graphics, pivot table slicers, an updated Solver, and a 64-bit version..
152013New features include a single-document interface, charting enhancements, and recommended charts and pivot tables.
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