Apple’s Numbers is an incredibly potent spreadsheet application. With no licensing costs and native iPhone, iPad, and Mac compatibility, the platform deserves attention.

If you’re new to Numbers, or if you’re considering replacing your office’s Excel dependency with Numbers, here are three keys to maximizing usage of the app within your firm.

SEE: Software usage policy (Tech Pro Research)

1. Master the basics

Your users may be familiar with Microsoft Excel, but they may not know where to find commonly accessed features in Apple’s Numbers. Here’s a quick rundown of 10 common actions in Numbers.

Add Rows and Columns: Add a row within Numbers by right-clicking a cell within a corresponding row and selecting Add Row Above or Add Row Beneath. Add a column within Numbers by right-clicking a cell within a corresponding column and selecting Add Column Before or Add Column After.

Add a Worksheet: Click the + icon that appears toward the top left of the currently displayed worksheet (Figure A).

Figure A

Configure Data Formats: With the corresponding cell(s) highlighted, display the Inspector pane, which appears on the application’s right, confirm the Format icon is selected and use the drop-down menu within the Cell tab to set a cell’s data format. Display the Inspector pane by clicking within a cell or clicking View from the Numbers menu bar and selecting Inspector and then Show Inspector, if the Inspector view was previously hidden.

Configure Cells: Highlight the corresponding cell(s), display the Inspector pane, confirm the Format icon is selected, and click the Cell tab to configure cell fill and borders, as well as conditional highlighting settings.

Configure Cell Text: Highlight the corresponding cell(s), display the Inspector pane, ensure the Format icon is selected, and click the Text tab to configure font, alignment, text wrapping, and spacing.

Freeze/Unfreeze Header Row: Freeze and unfreeze header rows by highlighting the row number that appears on the left of the Numbers application, clicking the down arrow that appears and selecting Freeze Headers Rows to check or uncheck the selection as you desire.

Insert Sums, Averages, and Other Values: Highlight the cell where the value should be entered, and then click Insert from the Numbers menu bar, click Formula, and select the corresponding operation. Alternatively, you can highlight the cell where the total should be placed and click the Insert icon that appears within the Numbers toolbar and then select the corresponding operation–be sure to double-check and confirm Numbers calculates the correct cells (which the application highlights by default). Note: You can adjust the chosen cells by double-clicking the cell in which the operation appears, manually adjusting the described cells, and clicking the Green checkmark to save the change.

Insert Chart: Highlight the corresponding cells and click the Chart icon within the Numbers toolbar, and then select the type of chart you wish to create. Numbers will place the chart within the sheet.

Insert Table: Display the Inspector pane, ensure the Format icon is selected, click the Table tab, and then use the provided header and footer, table outline, and row and column size settings to configure the table (Figure B).

Figure B

Sort and Filter Cells: Highlight the corresponding cells, display the Inspector pane, ensure the Sort & Filter icon is selected, and then select the corresponding Sort or Filter tab to configure sorting and filtering options.

SEE: Top 20 Apple keyboard shortcuts for business users (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

2. Leverage Excel compatibility

Numbers is compatible with Microsoft Excel. If you’re creating spreadsheets in collaboration with Excel users, or if you’re sending your Numbers file to a Microsoft Excel user, you can save a Numbers file as an Excel spreadsheet or export the Numbers file as an Excel spreadsheet to ensure recipients don’t experience any trouble.

Complete step-by-step instructions for saving a Numbers file in Microsoft’s Excel format are available on TechRepublic.

Note: While most spreadsheet elements translate well between both platforms, including commenting and conditional formatting, anomalies sometimes arise; for example, complex table elements and certain fonts may not translate perfectly. For a complete list of compatibility features and behaviors, view the comprehensive Excel-to-Numbers chart Apple maintains on its site.

SEE: 8 things you need to know about Apple (Q1 2018 edition) (ZDNet)

3. Tap iCloud integration

Apple has integrated all iWork applications–Pages, Numbers, and Keynote–within iCloud. Apple’s iCloud users will find separate directories created by default for storing each application’s files.

I initially found the Numbers behavior of storing files by default within the iCloud Numbers directory a little presumptuous. However, as I’ve increasingly become dependent upon cloud services to share, view, and edit spreadsheets using an iPhone, iPad, Mac, and even Windows PC, the feature has proven helpful and saved time.

iCloud also enables sharing Numbers files with other iCloud users, including PC users who might otherwise use Excel. Depending upon permissions the spreadsheet owner sets, iCloud users can subsequently access and even edit Numbers files using their Apple or Windows web browser.

More tips about Apple Numbers

After you master the basics of Apple’s Numbers, be sure to maximize your experience with the free spreadsheet app by using pre-formatted templates, leveraging collaboration features, and making use of built-in charts.