Spreadsheets

The well-known spreadsheets are probably the most widely known software applications that can help build quite sophisticated models. Microsoft Excel is by far the best-known and widely used spreadsheet. However, there is also Lotus 1-2-3, which actually pioneered the spreadsheet concept and is now owned by IBM, or the open-source OpenOffice suite. The latest addition is Numbers, the Macintosh spreadsheet program. All offer very similar functionality. The other option is to use Google spreadsheets, which reside on the web and can be shared among several developers, who can then access and update the document from anywhere around the world using just an Internet browser.

The basic functionality that comes with spreadsheets is that formulas can be programmed using some very simple conventions. For dynamic models, these formulas can be reiterated, using a TIME column, and using the results of previous calculations (rows) to generate the values for the next time step.

Pros. Free or almost free since comes as part of Microsoft Office, which is more or less standard these days, or can be downloaded as part of OpenOffice, or can be used over the Internet. Many users already know how to use it.

Cons. Quickly gets very cumbersome as model complexity increases. No GUI for modeling. Hard to present and visualize. Only simplest numeric methods are feasible to be implemented (say, Euler for ordinary differential equation (ODE)).

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