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Microsoft Excel Workbook Definition And History

A Microsoft Excel workbook is the name given to, what was originally named, a spreadsheet. A workbook is the file you open in Excel. Back in the days of MS-DOS and before Excel you just opened a file (of whatever flavor spreadsheet program) and called it a "spreadsheet".

A workbook is essentially what had been traditionally termed a "spreadsheet" by programs like the ones run on IBM mainframe computers and, more recently (and, by "recently", I mean late 80's), VisiCalc on the Apple II and Lotus 1-2-3 on the PC running DOS.

That was before Microsoft took the lead in spreadsheet programs. Windows exploded from just a DOS shell to a pretty cool operating system and Excel was in position to challenge the top spreadsheet program at that time. Lotus 1-2-3.

One Spreadsheet Per Application

When the earlier versions of spreadsheet programs (before Excel) were popular (i.e. Lotus 1-2-3, VisiCalc...) and not so popular (i.e. SuperCalc, Context MBA...) a spreadsheet program produced..., you guessed it, a single spreadsheet. There were no multiple sheets in one file.

"I need the spreadsheet for product #x inventory...", was how managers called for and used a spreadsheet. You would have a separate file for each spreadsheet you needed. One for assembly line A, another for line B. Or, one for widget A another for widget B etc., etc..

Multiple Spreadsheets. Oh My!

Version 3.0 of Lotus 1-2-3 was the first iteration of the then popular spreadsheet program that could handle multiple spreadsheets inside of one file. Somewhat like the way we say "Kleenex" when we need a tissue or "Clorox" when we need bleach the term "spreadsheet" has stuck and is still the most popular what to express what we want.

Microsoft, logically, named their files a "workbook" and the spreadsheets inside them are "worksheets".

There you have it. A "workbook" is the Microsoft Excel way to say "spreadsheet". And, both are ways to refer to a computer file. Excel file extensions are in a .xls format before Excel 2007 and in a .xlsx for the Excel 2007 and later.

Are you confused yet?


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