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An In-Depth Guide to Making Excel the Default Spreadsheet App on Mac

If you use Excel regularly for important tasks like data analysis, pivot tables, and complex calculations, you likely want it readily accessible as the default spreadsheet app on your Mac.

The good news is, it‘s easy to switch the default from Apple‘s Numbers app over to Microsoft Excel. This guide will walk you through the process step-by-step.

I‘ll also provide a detailed look at the key differences between Excel and Numbers to help you determine which is right for your needs.

By the end, you‘ll have Excel set as the default on your system and have expert tips to help you hit the ground running with all of Excel‘s robust features. Let‘s get started!

Comparing Excel and Numbers for Mac

When evaluating Excel versus Numbers, there are a few key factors to consider:

Use Cases and Features

Excel offers:

  • Advanced formulas, financial and statistical functions
  • PivotTables and PivotCharts for data analysis
  • Power Pivot and Power Query add-ons provide business intelligence capabilities
  • Macro creation with VBA to automate repetitive tasks
  • Collaboration via real-time co-authoring

Numbers provides:

  • Templates for personal finance, education, and multimedia projects
  • Easy-to-use design-focused functionality
  • Smart categories and intelligent handling of data types
  • Built-in chart creation with various customization options

Data and File Handling

Excel supports:

  • Larger datasets up to 1 million rows and 16,000 columns
  • .xlsx, .xls, .csv and other legacy file formats
  • Easy compatibility for sharing files cross-platform

Numbers limits:

  • Total rows capped at 65,536
  • Compatible only with Numbers (.numbers), Excel (.xlsx), or CSV formats
  • Can have issues with complex Excel files

Learning Curve

Excel has:

  • A steeper learning curve but more features to master
  • Widespread usage means more training resources available

Numbers designed for:

  • Simplicity and ease-of-use
  • Less time needed to learn the basics


Excel offers:

  • Interactive PivotCharts with slicers
  • 3D Maps powered by Bing
  • 100+ chart types including statistical charts

Numbers provides:

  • A variety of templates for reports and presentations
  • Tools to craft visually striking spreadsheets
  • Smart categories for charts help select the optimal format

As this overview illustrates, Excel is going to be the choice for larger datasets and advanced functionality like business intelligence tools. Numbers offers an easier learning curve and may be better suited for individual users focused more on aesthetics and ease-of-use rather than hardcore data analysis.

But the best way to decide is to look at your own use case. Will you need to handle large volumes of data? Do you plan on doing extensive calculations or creating visualizations like pivot tables? If so, Excel is likely the better fit.

Now let‘s walk through setting it as the default spreadsheet app on your Mac.

How to Change the Default App to Excel on Mac

Here is a step-by-step guide to making Excel the default for all spreadsheet files rather than Numbers:

1. Install Microsoft Excel

First, ensure you have Excel installed on your system. If not, you can purchase it standalone or install it via an Office 365 subscription.

2. Right click on an Excel file

Next, find a spreadsheet file saved on your Mac. Right click on the file and select ‘Get Info‘ from the context menu.

3. Open the ‘Open with‘ menu

In the info window that pops up, click the drop-down menu next to "Open with" to see the options for the default program.

4. Select Microsoft Excel

Scroll down and click on ‘Microsoft Excel‘ in the menu to set it as the default program.

5. Click ‘Change All‘

With Excel selected, click the ‘Change All‘ button to set it as the default for all Excel/spreadsheet files.

And that‘s all it takes to make Excel the default! Going forward, double clicking any spreadsheet file should automatically launch Excel.

Recommended Excel Add-ins for Mac

To really unlock Excel‘s capabilities on a Mac, add-ins are a must. Here are some top picks:

  • Power Query – Easily import, combine, and transform data from a variety of sources. Great for data prep and cleansing.
  • Power Pivot – Build powerful data models and create complex relationships between data sources. Opens up advanced report creation and business intelligence capabilities.
  • XLTools – Adds 100+ new functions like text transformers, formula helpers, and data cleansing tools. An invaluable utility add-in for power users.
  • XLMiner Analysis ToolPak – Provides an extensive suite of statistical, engineering, and scientific functions for research and academic use cases.
  • Solver – Enables complex what-if analysis to calculate optimal solutions and scenarios using linear and non-linear programming methods. Helpful for financial modeling and optimization problems.

These are just a few of the many excellent Excel add-ins available to enhance functionality and productivity on Mac. Browsing the add-ins dialog (found on the Insert tab) is a great way to discover other useful tools as well.

Top Excel Tips and Tricks for Mac

Beyond just setting it as the default, here are some expert tips for getting the most out of Excel on a Mac:

  • Use Touch Bar shortcuts – If your Mac has a Touch Bar, you can customize it with one-tap shortcuts for common Excel functions. Just right-click on the Touch Bar when Excel is open to get started.
  • Customize the Ribbon – Tailor the Ribbon to your workflow by adding, removing, and re-ordering tabs. Right-click on any tab and choose ‘Customize the Ribbon‘ to open options.
  • Link OneDrive accounts – Store Excel workbooks on OneDrive to access them on any device and enable real-time co-authoring of shared files.
  • Adjust calculation modes – Set calculation to ‘Automatic‘ so formulas update dynamically. Go to File > Options > Formulas > Workbook calculation.
  • Freeze panes – Keep column and row headings visible when scrolling large sheets. Select cell below/right of area to freeze, go to View > Freeze Panes.
  • Use Flash Fill – Let Excel detect patterns and quickly fill columns of data. Enter a few examples in a column, go to Data > Flash Fill, and Excel will fill in the rest.
  • Filter sliced data – In a Pivot Table, insert a slicer, then right-click on it and select ‘Filter Connections‘ to filter all Pivot Tables on that same data source.

These are just a handful of tips for performing common Excel actions more efficiently on a Mac. With a bit of practice, you‘ll be an Excel power user in no time!

Now Enjoy the Full Excel Experience on Mac

With Excel set as the default for all your spreadsheet needs, you can tap into its immense capabilities whenever you need – no more opening Numbers first!

Follow this guide the next time you get a new Mac or decide to switch from Numbers to Excel for your core spreadsheet tasks. And leverage the power-user tips to get comfortable with Excel on Mac and boost your productivity.

Thanks for reading – now go unleash the power of Excel on your next project using this guide! Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips for using Excel on Mac.