Are Numbers files compatible with Excel

Numbers: How to get started with Apple's alternative to Excel

Numbers presents itself as a nice and simple alternative to the industry standard Excel from Microsoft. Since Apple released the download for all Mac users, there is one more reason to take a look at the now free spreadsheet from Apple. Previously, Apple granted buyers of new Macs the free download of Pages, Numbers and Keynote from October 2013.

Numbers is the laggard in Apple's iWorks bundle. The first version was presented in August 2007. Therefore Numbers lags a bit behind in the version number: Numbers 6.1 is the current version for the Mac, Numbers 5.1 is the latest on iPad and iPhone.

As with Pages and Keynote, Apple has revised the Numbers functions in a number of ways. With version 4.0 in particular, the company brought back a number of previously deleted functions and since version 4.1 (or 3.1 for iOS), password-protected spreadsheets on the MacBook Pro can be opened using fingerprint recognition with the Touch Bar. Version 6.1 shines, for example, with the possibility of simultaneous collaboration on Numbers documents on Mac, iPhone, iPad and in iCloud.

Apple Numbers

Numbers is a customizable and easy-to-use spreadsheet for Mac, iPad, and iPhone. The current version of the application itself requires the macOS 10.13 Mojave operating system, with which it shares the system requirements. In short, if you are running Mojave, you can run the latest version, Numbers 6.1.

Work surface

Spreadsheets are primarily business applications. This is because the calculation programs are used for activities such as budget plans, income statements, and household books. Most of the time, it is about the scarce commodity called money in all its forms - for example as an account balance, expenditure or income. Tabular programs can also keep depreciation tables or inventory lists and, last but not least, are involved in the control of employees.

In the first part of this series of workshops (see previous issue) we are already using Numbers as a database for a form letter with Pages. Rows and columns are great for structuring data. Numbers can also open and save CSV files in this format. CSV literally stands for "Comma-separated values". This is a text format in which the values ​​of the cells are separated by commas. Furthermore, Numbers exports in the XLS formats of Excel and as PDF, as well as - similar to Pages - in the format of Numbers '09. This is a concession to users who still want or have to work with the old version 2.0. As with Pages, the ".numbers" file extension does not show any differences. However, you cannot lose any information because new documents cannot be opened with an “old” version of Numbers.

Deploy results

Numbers can prevent the mix of styles that often invades a document as new formatting from clipboard copying. Select the menu command "Edit> Paste and Adjust Style" (cmd) + (shift) + (alt) + (v) if you want to insert a section without formatting. Numbers adjusts the style as it is pasted. Subsequent reformatting is not necessary. That saves time.

The clipboard can do even more: Numbers can only insert calculated values ​​with the menu command "Edit> Insert formula result" (cmd) + (shift) + (v). This means that the values ​​used lose their relationship to formulas and dependent fields. Use the clipboard to transfer diagrams from Numbers to Keynote. You can adjust the values ​​later for the presentation.

Checklist: Working with Numbers

  • Is there a template from Apple?
  • Export or collaboration via iCloud?
  • Use automatisms and fill values, rows and formulas in rows or columns!
  • Check references in formulas!
  • Forms structure the recording of values!

Expertise like Excel

Although Numbers has improved both the functionality of the formulas provided and the sorting options for pivot tables in recent years, the prejudice that Apple's spreadsheet is inferior to Excel still persists. This comparison does not go very far - the focal points are too different. The makers of Numbers concentrate on the graphically appealing presentation of tabular data. With Numbers, diagrams and charts can be created with just a few clicks of the mouse. Numbers has around 250 math functions.

The most common formulas such as "Sum" and "Average" are given as soon as you select several cells and select them. Numbers, however, has never actively competed to take on the analysis tools and subroutines in Excel; Sophisticated statistical functions and programmable macros remain the domain of Excel.

But Numbers is more than enough for budget plans, income statements, and household books. As a simple database, the program structures a series of entries. You can even use Numbers for time recording or documentation of working hours or for organizing projects.

Apple supplies prepared templates for typical tasks. Budget books, working hours but also diet plans or financial comparisons as well as travel planning and team organization can be managed without having to start from scratch. The templates are localized in a complex manner and can be used immediately "out-of-the-box".

Three underrated orders

1. "Window> Merge All Windows" brings together all open documents as tabs in one window. This makes it easier to organize the spreadsheet in a compact view and to transfer it to a file.

2. "Table> Reorganize Rows and Columns" completely reformats a table by changing the rows of a table to columns and the columns to rows. So do not despair if a table is structured the wrong way.

3. "Format> Conditional marking ..." ensures that red numbers are automatically formatted in red, but can also help to fill out tables without errors by highlighting empty fields and fields that have to be filled in.

Cooperation instead of export

Apple has continuously improved the adoption of Excel documents. Numbers can either create the current XLSX format or save it in the older XLS format. However, differently formatted documents are preprogrammed. Numbers works with a "canvas" that can hold several tables, diagrams and graphics, while the work surface in Excel consists entirely of table cells.

In Excel, charts float above the cells. A workflow for data exchange via import-export-import is likely to quickly come up against practical limits. Because for Excel, each table is converted into its own worksheet. The organization on worksheets is thus quickly lost, although Numbers definitely receives headers from Excel.

Conceptually, Apple relies on collaboration via iCloud. With the iCloud Drive there is a central data storage for your own devices such as Mac, iPad and iPhone. With the browser access at, you can also integrate Windows users into collaboration on documents. The corresponding invitations are sent by e-mail, and you use the access rights to determine whether someone is only allowed to look at the information or to make changes. An optional password protection provides additional access security. And thanks to an integrated comment module, you can clarify questions on the spot.

It is possible to export your own tables from Numbers into the file format of Excel. Numbers specifies the modern file extension XLSX. The older and more robust XLS format is also possible. Excel spreadsheets can also be opened with Numbers. With complex functions, however, there are often error messages due to the limited functionality of Numbers.


The focus of Numbers is on ease of use, which makes the program the primary alternative to the spreadsheet heavyweight Excel, especially within the Apple “ecosystem”. Nobody will be able to seriously challenge Microsoft for its "place in the sun" of business applications - but at the same time nobody can deny the advantages of Numbers, especially since it is free and does not entail any follow-up costs.

Workshop: Simply work better with Numbers