This page describes the general differences between
various recent versions if Microsoft Excel. It is not a comprehensive list
of changes, only the major differences. All versions include bug fixes
and minor modifications to the user interface, making features easier to
The computerized spreadsheet was originally developed by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston for the Apple II computer, and marketed as VisiCalc. While VisiCalc long ago entered the museums, many elements still remain alive and well, including the A1 referencing of cells. The successes of VisiCalc and the Apple II computer were intimately tied together. Neither would have succeeded without the other.
In 1982, Lotus Development released 123 For DOS, and took spreadsheets to the mainstream business market, riding the success of the IBM PC. Like VisiCalc and the Apple II, the successes of 123 and the IBM PC were closely related. Lotus was not convinced of the long-term viability of the Windows operating system (how's that for bad prognostication!) and was quite late in releasing a Windows version, putting their resources instead to porting the application to IBM's OS/2 operating system.
While VisiCalc is long gone from the mainstream market, you can still run it on your PC today. Go to Dan Bricklin's web site and download a fully working copy. (Lotus Development, which owns the copyright for VisiCalc, has allowed this download from Bricklin's site).
Over the years, various spreadsheets have come and gone. Excel endures, and represents some 90% of the spreadsheet market today.
Microsoft Excel was written originally for the Macintosh system, and released in 1985. It predecessor was called Multi-Plan, which used R1C1 style referencing, still supported as an option in Excel 2002. The first Windows version was released in 1987.
Below are descriptions of recent versions of Excel.
Excel 2007 (Version 12, released 2007)
Excel 2003 (Version 11, released 2003)
Excel 2002 (Version 10, released 2001)
There were no substantial changes in the VBA side of the house. On the user interface side, Smart Tags and the Formula Evaluation tool are probably the most prominent. The overall appear of Excel was modified to provide a softer color pallet. The ability to recover corrupt files was substantially improved. You can read John Walkenbach's review of Excel 2002 by clicking here.
Excel 2000 (Version 9, released 1999)
An updated version of the VBA language (VBA6) was introduced, incorporating modeless Userforms, and some nice new language functions, such as Join and Split. Excel 2000 was the first version to support the COM Add-In model, which allows you to write add-ins that can work in any Office application (e.g., Word, PowerPoint, etc).
Excel 97 (Version 8, released 1997)
This version included the most substantial changes to Excel since the changes between versions 4 and 5. Major changes included a full VBA editor, with separate code modules, user forms, and class modules. One of the most useful enhancements for VBA programmers was the introduction of Event Procedures. The entire structure of CommandBars (menus and toolbars) was completely changed and enhanced.
On the user interface side of Excel, Conditional Formatting and Data Validation were added. Excel97 is the earliest version that any Excel user should be using.
Excel 95 (Version 7, released 1995)
Written for and released concurrently with Windows95, this was the first version of Excel to use full 32-bit code. While this represented an improvement in the internal workings of Excel, it doesn't change the user's experience. Microsoft plans to discontinue support for Office 95 programs on 1-December-2001.
Excel 6 (Version 6)
There was no version 6 of Excel. The version numbers jumped directly from 5 to 7 in order to bring all Office applications into a consistent version numbering system.
Excel 5 (Version 5, released 1993)
This was the first version of Excel to support Visual Basic For Applications (VBA), and the first to support multiple worksheets within a single workbook. Indeed, Excel was the first application to support VBA -- it was added to other applications in later versions.