Best alternative to MS Excel.

MS Excel (all versions) has two characteristics that have me fed-up; so I'm hoping someone with broad spreadsheet experience can make some recommendations.  The two problems:
1) MS Excel can not handle more than 65,000 records.  I often need to be able to work with several hundred thousand records.
2) The way MS Excel formats cells--especially as related to text--is highly problematic.  Example: I have a spreadsheet that was originally formatted as GENERAL.  I add a column and format those cells as TEXT.  I now define values as, e.g., 4/07..4/08.. etc.  Excel converts these to dates.  OR - someone sends me a data file that was originally formatted as all TEXT (perhaps because they wanted to retain leading zeros, or whatever).  I want to convert some fields to NUMBER; so I can perform calculations.  Excel shows that the cells are now formatted as NUMBER, but Excel still will not perform basic calculations.  Even if I export the file as space delimited text and import that into a new spreadsheet, the cells are formatted as TEXT and I have the same problem.  This becomes a real time-consuming problem.

When I read reviews, they always emphasize features but seldom give any insight to reliable basic functionality.  My opinion is that Microsoft goes crazy with gimicks but fails to deliver on reliable bread-and-butter functionality.  If anyone can recommend a spreadsheet package that does the basics reliably and without a hassle, I would like to hear from you.
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Michael V BernotCommented:
   If you need to convert text to numbers you can make use of following PASTE SPECIAL technique:

            Place a 1 in a cell, select this cell and hit the COPY icon.  Select the cells you would like to convert to numbers.  Select EDIT - PASTE SPECIAL - MULTIPY.  This will convert the text cells that appear to be numbers into values  that can be used in calculations.

Michael V BernotCommented:
Hello DoctorTony,

     The 2007 version of Excel provides 1,084,576 rows and 16,384 columns.  This compares to 65,536 rows and 256 columns for the 2003 version.   There are also ways to get your text numbers to be reported as true values so that you can perform calculations.  The process is not a time consuming process.  If you post this question in the MS Excel zone you'll have numerous experts provide clear instructions on how this can be accomplished.  
    In my opinion you're going to find a better spreadsheet program than Excel!

Good Luck,
Michael V BernotCommented:
Hello DoctorTony,

        In my opinion you're NOT going to find a better spreadsheet program than Excel.  

Sorry for the typo,
Hey doctortony,
In my opinion Excel is the best spreadsheet application available.
Take my word, i have worked with Excel for more than 7 years now and i bet you cant find better match.
As far as rows are considered, yes it is a problem, (Upgrade to 2k7 is the only answer for this, or break your data in multiple sheets which sucks.)
As far as formatting is considered, there are 2 things i would like to mention
1.   if you use "/" while separatng numbers, excel will accept it as dates. It is designed to do so.
(Only way is add appstropy (') on the beggining of cell to work around this.)
2. if the cell is formatted as text it will not perform any calcukations. Simplest way is to multiply the numbers by 1 to work around this. (use paste special -> multiply for multiple cells.)

as far as the formatting is considered, Excel 2007 handles it much better and it has smart features to indetify which formatting the data should take. I would suggest you to try it.

For alternatives, you can try open office. Its free but much or less its just a replica of MS office.
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