Looking Back at Early Versions of Excel

While clearing some of the boxes in the basement, I found a stack of old MacUser and MacWorld magazines. A couple of issues had articles on early versions of Excel (it started on the Mac) , so that was a good excuse to stop working, and flip through the magazines. I wasn't resting, I was researching! Here are some pro tips from Excel 1.0, and a review of the exciting new features in Excel 2.2.

Getting a Macintosh

We got our Macintosh computer in April 1984, when they were first sold in Canada. At first, there wasn't much software available. We had MacPaint and MacWrite, and did all kinds of wonderful things with those simple programs, on that little black and white monitor.

And yes, that original 128K Mac is still in the basement too. We did get it upgraded to 512K, and we had an external floppy drive, but no hard drive.


And a very boxy-looking mouse. Do you remember cleaning the roller balls from those things?


Excel Tips Version 1.0

The early versions of Excel were on the Macintosh only, starting with version 1.0 in 1985.

In the June 1987 issue of MacUser, there is a "Secrets of Excel" article, by Louis Benjamin. It's described as a "collection of pro techniques and undocumented features. So, I took a look at the article, to see how relevant the tips are in Excel 2016. I assume the author was using Excel 1.0, based on the Excel version history for the Apple Macintosh.

Custom Number Formatting

The first tip was about custom number formatting. Instead of choosing from a list of built-in formats, create custom number formats. Even in early version of Excel, you could add colours and text to the numbers.

That formatting tip still useful, but the formatting dialog box looks different now. To see how to create custom number formats in newer versions of Excel, take a look at Microsoft's article on custom number formats.


Charts in Early Versions of Excel

The Secrets of Excel article also has some good tips on building charts, and explains how the SERIES function works.

A few things have change though. Apparently, what we now call Combination Charts were originally called Overlay Charts.

P.S. Get Jon Peltier's Excel Charting Utility, if you work with charts in Excel. It helps you build complex charts quickly, and has other charting tools to help you save time.


More Pro Tips for Early Versions of Excel

The article had several more Excel tips that are just as useful in Excel 2016 as they were in early version of Excel. For example, create named ranges – you can refer to them in formulas and macros, and quickly to to those ranges with Go To Special.

It wasn't all business though – did you know that there was an Easter Egg hidden in this old version of Excel?

To activate the Easter Egg, you had to go to cell IV16384, and press Shift+Command+J. This Find windows appeared, and you could drag inside the text box, to scroll across a list of the Excel developer names. Ah, the good old days!


Excel Version 2.2 Review

Let's move on to another one of the early versions of Excel. In the September 1989 issue of MacUser, there was a short review of Microsoft Excel 2.2. And look -- it got the highest possible rating – 5 mice!

Excel was certainly expensive ($395 US), but look at the size of the files – 728K for the application!


Exciting New Features

There were several exciting new features in Excel 2.2 – 8 colours! Multiple fonts on a sheet! No more 1 MB limit! Woohoo!

And look at those beautiful charts, with all those coloured text boxes and shadow effects. I'm glad nobody does stuff like that anymore. Do they?

early versions of Excel

There was special help for Lotus 123 converts in the early versions of Excel, and Excel still has Lotus compatibility features, 30 years later. Does anyone still use Lotus?


Old or New?

So, do you miss the old days of a smaller, simpler Excel application, or are you happy with the current version, and all its features?



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3 Responses

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Nice to look back occasionally. Those were fun days.

  2. Chip says:

    I started using Excel 4 on the Mac in about ’92, after using Lotus 123 for PCs starting with version 1A in ’84. I wrote the funky macros that Lotus used and then learned the Excel Macro Language reasonably well. It took me a long time to get used to VBA when it came out.

    I found my Office 4 for Mac box in the attic last weekend. It is a big box with manuals and such and it’s used as a bookend on some shelves.

  3. Excel archeology is fascinating!

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