Whether you want to use spreadsheets for basic home accounting, complicated analyses of exam results, or sophisticated forecasting of sales figures for your department, Microsoft Excel 2007 is much more than a simple tool for number crunching.

Quite often when there's a need to present vast amounts of data in an easy to understand report, the first thing that comes to mind is to create a spreadsheet. But it is usually a knee-jerk reaction to suggest a spreadsheet as a solution. Before deciding if this is the best application to use, we have to first understand what it is Excel can do and how it's done.

To define Microsoft Excel in a simple sentence does not do it justice, but it could be regarded as the computer equivalent of a ledger sheet. A spreadsheet is a grid made from columns and rows, which makes number manipulation easy and less painless.

Columns and rows and their intersections - cells - are the components which are used together to create the basic frame of an Excel spreadsheet. Within each cell there may be the following types of data - text (labels), number data (constants) and formulas (mathematical equations that do all the work). How simple or complicated each component is and its relationship to every other component is determined by you. However, the complex calculations are made with the aid of the program - so any of the difficult maths is handled quickly and accurately.

Imagine keeping track of any accounting system - the calculations that go in to creating a day-to-day log of what you spend on the paper ledger can be overwhelming. If your income changes, for example, you might need to start the calculation all over again. But an Excel spreadsheet does the maths for you.

Spreadsheets are often used to store financial data. Formulas and functions that are used on this type of data include performing basic mathematical operations such as adding columns and rows of figures; finding values such as profit or loss; calculating repayment plans; and finding the average, maximum, or minimum values in a specified range of data.

A spreadsheet is a piece of software that can handle and manipulate numbers in understandable patterns. But spreadsheets are not confined to adding up - a spreadsheet can undertake financial calculations, statistical information - even trigonometry. And all of this information can be collated into a graph or chart.

Microsoft Excel can be used for graphing or charting data to assist users in identifying data trends, as well as sorting and filtering data to find specific information. And the information in a spreadsheet can easily be incorporated into electronic presentations, web pages or printed off in report form.

Microsoft Excel 2007 also allows you, the user, to define the appearance of spreadsheets including specifying fonts, character attributes and cell appearance. It also boasts intelligent cell recomputation, where only cells dependent on the cell being modified are updated. The program also has extensive graphing capabilities and enables users to perform mail merge. Microsoft Excel features calculation, graphing tools, tables and a macro programming language called VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).

But one of the most common reasons why Excel is the program of choice for creating a spreadsheet is the ability to do both simple and complex calculations. The business of adding or multiplying is made simple by the inbuilt calculator in an Excel spreadsheet.

So there it is, there's no mystery to Excel, but there is plenty of wizardry. Use it wisely and it will help you to conjure up fantastic results.