What are the best free statistics software for beginners?

2023 © Wikiask
Main topic: Tech
Other topics: Mathematics, Statistics
Short answer: Librecalc, which is a spreadsheet similar to MicroSoft Excel, has to be one of the best.

Answer for a beginning statistics student learning on their own:

Librecalc, which is spreadsheet software like commercial MicroSoft Excel and closed-but-free-to-use Google Sheets, has to be one of the best environments for beginners in statistics. It is part of LibreOffice, an open-source office suite like commercial Microsoft Office. You can't go wrong with this as a choice, if you are really alone.

However, if others around you know and use some other office suite or spreadsheet software, or if you expect to go into a job or a class that does, then what those others use could be a factor in your decision. Although features available and user interfaces are similar across softwares, it can always be nice to have others who know exactly how to get a specific thing done. And your experience while learning statistics may transfer over, somewhat, to improve your functioning in a given suite-level environment.

Answer for someone planning to teach beginning statistics by tutoring or in a high school or college course:

LibreCalc has to be one of the best environments for students to learn in, and they may appreciate your giving them experience that will be more directly useful in their futures, and that will not cost them a bundle.

LibreCalc's advantages include:

  • LibreCalc is open-source and is part of LibreOffice, an entire open-source suite with word processing, presentations, and database modules
    • There are other open-source spreadsheets that integrate with an office suite (Calligra, Apache Open-Office), but those may differ in how widely used they are or how well they are supported. Quite possibly any difference would make no difference in beginning statistics, but LibreOffice has been argued to have more ongoing development than Open-Office.[1][2][3]
    • Closed but free-to-the-user options include Google Sheets, but these may not include some features needed in statistics.(verify?source?).
  • It is supported on common laptop/personal computer platforms (Mac, Windows, Gnu/Linux, BSD, and Unix). It is not optimized for IPadOS but nor are any free others.
  • There are obvious advantages to using a spreadsheet environment, including that all data is displayed, and using a spreadsheet is intuitive now. The ease of use and (all of?) the desirable features in spreadsheets are not proprietary and can't be restricted, apparently, because LibreOffice and all competitors include them. And spreadsheet data can easily be transferred to other software, if something other than a spreadsheet is wanted later.
  • Calculations of the mean, variance, t-tests, and other statistics of a given set of data is done by built-in functions. Or, a student can set up their own calculations by formula that add, multiply and otherwise process numbers in cells of the spreadsheet.
  • Regression analysis, the usually-first-to-be-learned statistics that explains one variable by multiple other variables is not supported (fact? source?), but regression is rarely if ever included in introductory, first statistics courses.
  • Logit regression which explains categorical variables (like the 0 or 1 of whether or not cancer developed) by multiple other variables is not supported. This is never covered in introductory courses, though maybe it should be.
  • LibreCalc in particular provides a great base for continuing into advanced statistics.
    • LibreCalc can handle a million rows of data! (This is simply amazing for people who started out in VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet software for a personal computer, and the "killer app" for the Apple II when it came out in 1979.)
    • LibreCalc provides functions that advanced users of other statistical software would miss, if it didn't:
      • content equivalent to Solver, which for a long period was an "add-in" to Excel, including regression analysis and optimization (verify?source?)
      • Macros, the ability to remember and program any sequence of keystrokes, and more general programming (verify?source?)

LibreCalc's disadvantages for your students, compared to some others, might be:

  • It's for one user, and does not allow collaboration of multiple users as do online spreadsheets such as closed but free-to-use Google Sheets.
  • Not supported on Android or iOS phones (but nor Calligra and OpenOffice)

Additional considerations, if you're teaching in a continuing program, include:

  • What environment is supported by the publisher of a textbook you may be planning to use? YMMV with respect to the usefulness of any of their offerings.
  • What environments will students encounter in future courses, and how much may it benefit your students to have a head start in that.
  • What environments are your peers teaching the same course using? There can be advantage to using the same, if teaching materials and support are shared and it would seem to benefit you and your students to share those. However, shared materials can be outdated and less useful because the answers or approaches are too widely available to your students that are inclined to take shortcuts. And especially if teaching is more competitive than collaborative, there can be advantage to using something better for students than what your peers have adopted, or to simply using something different.


Wikipedia's Comparison of spreadsheet software, and related articles about LibreOffice, OpenOffice, Gnumeric, and more.

  1. Byfield, Bruce. "LibreOffice and OpenOffice: comparing the commu... » Linux Magazine". Linux Magazine. Retrieved 2022-10-27.
  2. "OpenOffice development is looking grim as developers flock to LibreOffice". PCWorld. Retrieved 2022-10-27.
  3. "LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice: Why LibreOffice Wins". Datamation. 2014-10-28. Retrieved 2022-10-27.

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