In the world of spreadsheets Microsoft’s Excel is the most well-known with an array features like Pivot Tables and also functions like vlookup, which make it a fantastic tool for any data user and has changed whole industries. The spreadsheet is a program that has become so ubiquitous in the workplace and family life it is akin to digital plumbing: an essential. 1

While Microsoft Excel does have the greatest mindshare there are of-course other spreadsheet programs from other companies like Google and Mariner Software as well as open source projects like Calc from Libre Office. And as someone who lives inside spreadsheets most days I find them an amazing tool and I wanted to talk about one of my favorite Excel alternatives: Numbers.

Created by Apple in the mid-2000s renaissance, Numbers was Initially introduced in 20072 as part of their iWork suite. One could ask, “Do we need another spreadsheet program?” I have had Excel handle 100,000+ row worksheets with no trouble and the PIVOT table is a fantastic tool for drilling down through your data3. Though as Numbers has been steadily iterated and added new features from the initial 1.0 version (as of this writing is version 11) it provides a similar albeit different value to Excel.

In Excel, the spreadsheet covers the entire worksheet with cells, which is great for crunching data and sifting through the information. Yet, the end goal with any report or dataset is to provide value to the end user. And an array of worksheets can be intimidating for many operational end users and provide more noise than signal to those in leadership.

Numbers open with a simple table within a larger canvas that provides ample space to weave the story about the data in a proper narrative that can be presented alongside the data. Too often decision makers need context and explanation when looking at data in order to make the best decision. A massive table or analysis in Excel can be too much at times so Numbers is a great tool for providing that context where less is more. Too often a specific software tool is seen as a magic bullet for creating change or promoting decision making and instead it is more that story that is created with the data and that enables and informs decision making that is real value.

  1. For an amazing look at the history of the spreadsheet Planet Money has done an amazing episode on spreadsheets, Episode 606: Spreadsheets!  ↩

  2. See the Wikipedia article on Numbers for a solid history and here is a review of the early version.  ↩

  3. You can even use Excel to create artwork as evidenced here  ↩