There are many options to start learning and using spreadsheets.
Firstly, I am a PC user, probably by accident, and I know very little on Mac-s. Again, I was able to use only a few of the spreadsheet programs that Wikipedia is mentioning. Well, this is an open Blog, so , I hope some of you would open topics on what is the best ever program for spreadsheets.
What I need to suggest to newcomers in spreadsheets is that in the first steps, you should choose ANY program to start learning. It could be a local one, installed on your computer (MS Excel and it’s free competitor OpenOffice Calc are my recommendations) or they could be online solutions ( I just know Google Docs , but again, Wikipedia knows about more) .
Why ANY is good for a start : because the basics are pretty much the same. It is about cells with data and formulas which allow you to process [mostly !] numeric information with much ease. Sometimes different programs use different names for same tools, like ‘Pivot Tables’ which in OpenOffice are named ‘Data Pilot’.
You can see here that there are not many differences. There is no doubt that Microsoft developed (and still is) a very powerful tool in Excel. Each major version (with Office 2010 it is version 14) has brought major improvement and whatever strong reactions came from the Open Source community, they are still ahead in innovating.
For example, Excel 2007 came with a very useful increase of the number of rows and columns (you would be amazed, but 65356 rows are sometimes not enough for some database application that Excel can handle) , and in OpenOffice, only one single developer implemented similar functionality recently.
I do recommend Go-OO as a very strong alternative and which is making a serious effort to keep compatibility with Excel.
For the subscribers that would feel to fit in this category, there is an open forum : Beginners.