Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 6 / JUNE 1984 / PAGE S2

What is a spreadsheet?

Many people believe that electronic spreadsheets are nothing more than simple calculators. Add the fact that many of them carry the word "calc" somewhere within their names, and you can understand some of the confusion.

However, electronic spreadsheets are much more than calculators. They are versatile tools for processing many numbers in a small amount of time. To draw an analogy, a spreadsheet manipulates numbers the way a processor manipulates words.

Like conventional pencil-and-paper worksheets, electronic spreadsheets organize data in a matrix of rows and columns. Frequently, the rows contain various formulas (calculations to be performed on the data which are entered later) and the columns define periods of time. The rows could just as easily define itmes in inventory and the columns, various suppliers. Indeed, anything that lends itself to a grid or matrix organization can be manipulated on an electronic spreadsheet.

Each intersection of a row and column forms as cell which holds one piece of information. The cells are linked together by the formulas. If you make a change in one cell, the spreadsheet uses the power of the computer to automatically recalculate and alter every other cell linked to that original cell.

As you can imagine, businesspeople, especially those involved with sales forecasting, budget analysis, and toher financial planning, profit the most from the speed of a spreadsheet. They can duplicate a situation, project numerous hypothetical developments, and study the results of "what if" scenarios without error and in less time than it takes to create a single manual worksheet.

Spreadsheets are handy for home applications, too. You can analyze the family budget much faster and easier using an automatic spreadsheet than by entering and reentering numbers on a calculator. You can figure out how various deductions will affect your tax bill. If you hold stocks or bond, you can estimate pofits, losses, dividend income, yield and other aspects of your portfolio. You can also use the same information in a tax planning spreadsheet.

Although it can take considerable time to set up your initial worksheet--laying out the matrix, entering headings and labels, and defining formulas--this template can be saved on disk. Thus, the next time you want to use that application with different data, you need only enter the new data, for the template has already been created. Furthermore, templates for many common problems are available for all of the popular spreadsheet packages.

For business or home, an electronic spreadsheet is an invaluable tool for manipulating numbers. It performs tedious calculations and recalculations without error and far faster than can be done by hand. An electronic spreadsheet offers a practical application for your computer investment.