Review of spreadsheet user interfaces

You can find these images with a quick image search, but I wanted examples of each in one place so I can see the general UI patterns. What are the common elements that a user sees? What do they have in common beyond the grid?

I should mention that a good number of these screenshots came from, which is a great archive of all sorts of old software.

Here we go, roughly in in chronological order.

Table of object glasses from 1665

Let’s start off not entirely at the beginning, but pretty far back. What strikes me is that we have been struggling with vertical layouts for a long time. Table of object glasses from 1665 Source: Wikipedia

1700’s German ledger

A german ledge containing financial transactions. It probably conforms to the FAST Standard more strictly than many .xlsx files. 1700’s German ledger Source: Wikipedia

Lotus 1-2-3 for MS DOS

I like the simplicity of Lotus-1-2-3 and other MS-DOS sheets. Nothing is hidden. Menus and interactions are clear. The surface area - literally and figuratively - is small. Lotus 1-2-3 for MS DOS Source: Twitter - Anatoly Shashkin - @dosnostalgic

Multiplan for MS DOS

I’ve never used Multiplan, but as far as I can tell, grids have column numbers instead of letters, and you can have multiple grid listed sequentially, each capped at a certain number of rows. I can imagine this would be convenient when it came to adding a section for aggregation calculations. Multiplan for MS DOS Source:

Better Working Eight-in-One for MS-DOS

Better Working Eight-in-One, from Spinnaker Software is an integrated office suite for DOS. It contains a word processor, a spelling checker, a data base, a spreadsheet, an outliner, a graphics program, a communications program and a set of desktop utilities - all in one single, consistent application.

Better Working Eight-in-One for MS-DOS Source:

Boeing Calc 300E

Did you know that Boeing made a spreadsheet product back in the 1980’s? Boeing Calc 300E Source:

Javelin Plus 1.0

This one is billed as an “analysis and reporting tool” but it looks a lot like a spreadsheet. The key difference is that columns are named by what they represent rather than a sequential index. Javelin Plus 1.0 Source:

Ability 1.0

Check out Ability for a free working version! Ability 1.0 Source:

AppleWorks 5.0

AppleWorks 5.0 Source:

Borland Office 2.0 For Windows 3.1

Borland Office 2.0 For Windows 3.1 Source:

CA Compete! 4.2

It looks like a spreadsheet that is cell based, but it’s actually based on objects, meaning you have to reference data by name of the object/model. This seems like it would limit the free-form intention of a spreadsheet, but also keep you from making mistakes. CA Compete! 4.2 Source:

Corel Office 7 / Correl Quattro Pro 7

Essentially the same version of the same spreadsheet product, but sold with different software packages. Corel Office 7 / Correl Quattro Pro 7 Source:

Lotus Improv

Lotus Improv Source:

Excel 1.0

Excel 1.0 Source:

Excel 2.0

Excel 2.0 Source: Microsoft

Excel 4.0

Excel 4.0 Source:

Excel 5.0

Excel 5.0 Source:

Excel 95

Excel 95 Source:

Excel 97

Excel 97 Source:

Excel 2000

Excel 2000 Source:

Excel 2002

Excel 2002 Source:

Excel 2003

Excel 2003 Source:

Excel 2007

Excel 2007 Source:

Excel 2010

Excel 2010 Source:

Excel 2013

Excel 2013 Source:

Excel 2016

Excel 2016

OpenOffice Calc

OpenOffice Calc Source:

Google Sheets 2019

Google Sheets 2019

Airtable 2019

Airtable 2019

Scheme In A Grid - 2019

Scheme In A Grid - 2019 Source:


VD is one of the best tools to get a handle on plaintext tabular data straight from the command line. If you’ve literally got a minute, check out VisiData In 60 Seconds. VisiData Source:

spreadsheets | design