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Two New Calculators

While Microsoft haven't updated their Windows Calculator since it was first released in 1985, they've quietly released two additional calculators which you can download for free from the Microsoft Download Centre.

Both of these calculators contain features that aren't in the Windows Calculator:

  • Microsoft Calculator Plus offers a conversion mode in addition to the basic and scientific modes of the standard Windows Calculator. The conversion mode supports both unit conversion and currency conversion (and in the latter case, it supports direct updates of exchange rates for European currencies from the European Central Bank's website, which is clever). Calculator Plus also provides an alternate interface to the Windows Calculator.
  • Power Calculator was released as a Windows XP PowerToy and it supports graphing. However, although the program allows you to adjust the precision of calculations, there are some flaws in the implementation and some of the results it can produce for some calculations can't be completely relied on.

These are commercially licensed software applications but they're available for free to all Microsoft Windows customers.

Other Windows Calculator Resources

Windows Calculators
Background: Although humans have been using calculators for thousands of years (fingers, tally sticks and the abacus were probably the earliest ones), the first true mechanical calculators for mass use only began to appear in the early 1900s.

These mechanical calculators quickly came to dominate the market, though, and this dominance lasted for 60 years until the first electronic calculators began appearing in the the early 1960s.

Electronic calculators soon killed off mechanical calculators because of their low price, portability and ease of use. And they dominated the market in their turn for a further 20 years until the rise of PCs in the late 1980s largely spelled their end as a highly profitable mass-market item (though they still exist today as low profit, low volume items - often with highly specialised functions such as hand-held scientific or financial calculators).

The Windows Calculator that most people are familiar with made its debut with the launch of Microsoft Windows in 1985. And just like Notebook or Solitaire, this calculator has been a standard component of every release of Windows ever since (in fact, these small add-on programs are now probably the most long-lived software that Microsoft have ever produced).

You can find the Windows Calculator on most Windows PCs by clicking Start > Programs > Accessories > Calculator.

The Windows Calculator has two alternative views: a basic calculator for simple, everyday maths; and a more advanced scientific calculator (selectable under the "View" menu) which can perform a range of advanced mathematical functions in decimal, binary, octal and hexadecimal number bases.

The Windows Calculator is quite useful software but Microsoft haven't changed it, added to it or updated it in more than two decades. So it was probably inevitable that clever programmers would soon get dissatisfied with its limitations and build better calculators to replace it. Which is exactly what's happened (in fact, we estimate there are now more than 100 alternative Windows Calculators out there, along with an even bigger number of specialised calculators for everything from finance and scientific work through to mortgage and/or loan repayments and debt reduction)

The most common complaint about the Windows Calculator is that it's difficult to keep onscreen and takes too many steps to start up. So if you'd like a calculator that you can always have at your fingertips and/or one that extends the basic calculator in useful ways, we've found six worthy replacements that do a fine job (including an online calculator you may not know about). Here's what they are:


Popular Windows Calculators
Farsight Freecalc
Feel more comfortable with an on-screen version of a hand held calculator? Then you should take a look at FarsightSoft's Freecalc, which is the freeware lite version of their commercial Farsight Calculator. This feature-rich calculator allows you to perform arithmetic operations in either RPN (Reverse Polish Notation) or ALG (Algebraic) mode and it supports more than 100 common mathematical functions including algebraic, trigonometric, hyperbolic, date, statistical, and financial functions. It will also perform unit conversions for 100 common units, which are intelligently grouped together for ease of use. You can also change Freecalc's skin if the default skin doesn't suit your tastes. Freecalc runs on all versions of Windows (from Win98 to Vista) and if you want to upgrade to the Pro version (which - amongst other things - lets you create your own house branded calculators for redistribution as .exe files) it's just US$30.
Get Farsight Freecalc.


Mini Calculator
Microtools4U's Mini Calculator is another good candidate to replace your inbuilt Windows Calculator. This calculator looks (and works) very much the same as the Windows calculator but it has some useful extensions that make it quite worthwhile. These include two operating windows - one for input and the other for the result; a fully switchable memory mode accumulator; and implementation of "constant second operand" and "copy and paste" operations. It also has an in-built loan calculator (a useful everyday calculation feature that many calculators overlook). Unlike the Windows calculator, though, you can set it to be "always on top" and you can set hot keys to control how it works (eg: exit on ESC etc). You can also change its precision representation and even change how it looks. We liked this small but punchy calculator and if you have to zip in and out of the Windows calculator frequently, you probably will too (this software has won 5-star awards from a number of reviewers and they're well-earned). Mini Calculator runs on all versions of Windows from Win98 to XP/2003 and it's freeware. Get Mini Calculator


Another good candidate to replace the Windows Calculator is CalCute (which really is quite cute!). This neat little calculator can be downsized to a single line that you can dock on your Windows status bar or enlarged into a the equivalent of a paper roll calculator that you can stretch at will. Calcute is an expression evaluator and unlike other calculators where numbers disappear as soon as you enter the next one, Calcute lets you enter a complete mathematical expression as if you were using a regular text editor. This means that you can see what you're doing and - if you do anything wrong - quite easily make corrections. Then just click Enter on your corrected expression to get an answer.Calcute lets you work in ordinary decimal integers and binary, octal and hexadecimal number bases. You can also work in fractional numbers and numbers expressed in scientific notation (you can even mix numbers in different bases within the same expression). You can also annotate your work and save your work to a text file that can be reloaded the next time you start the program, so you can continue a long calculation where you left off. You can also select CalCute's fonts, button sizes, swap the period for a comma, set it to be "always on top"; set the program's startup hot key and set it to dock in a specific portion of the screen. CalCute runs on all versions of Windows from Win95 to XP/2003 and it's freeware. Get CalCute


Moffsof FreeCalc
Moffsof Freecalc is another alternate Windows Calculator that works much the same as your existing Windows Calculator but - again - offers several usability improvements that make you wonder why Microsoft didn't do them themselves. To begin with, Moffsof's FreeCalc has an adjustable size that remembers its settings from one use to the next. It also has a tray icon so that you can have it available at any time with a mouse-click - and it also has a simulated paper tape so that you can see what you're doing (very handy for long calculations!) which you can print out or save for use in future computations. Moffsof's FreeCalc also adds some sensible new keys to its calculator (double zero, triple zero, clear tape and Memory subtract). And any values currently stored in the calculator's memory are displayed on the calculator's status bar (which eliminates your own need to remember what you've stored there!). The calculator's colour scheme can also be set to match your preferred Windows colour scheme and you can also set how the calculator performs (eg: "always on top", load at startup, hide the paper tape window etc) and the way it shows digit grouping and decimal points. This is a very nice Windows calculator that we liked a lot, and you might too. Moffsof Freecalc runs on all versions of Windows from Win95 to Vista and it's freeware. Get Moffsof FreeCalc


If you're looking for a simple replacement for Windows' calculator that will stay onscreen as long as you want it to, then eCalc is worth your inspection. eCalc has two modes (basic and scientific) and it does all the things your Windows calculator will do, along with many things that it won't do (especially in the Scientific mode, where it supports a pretty dazzling array of functions). eCalc is freeware and the download version runs on all versions of Windows from Win98 to Vista. There's also an online version; a version you can add to your iGoogle page; and a newly-released version that runs on Vista's sidebar. You can view a video demo of the software on the site; try out the basic and scientific modes on the site as well; and also get a full listing of all the features that eCalc supports there too (which you can print off if you'd like a hard-copy manual). We like eCalc - it's well built and does what it says it will do very nicely. But one thing we didn't like was that it wasn't very obvious how to download it. Answer? Go to eCalc's blog and you'll find the links for all four versions there. Get eCalc.


Google Calculator
Last of all, if you just want a calculator that you can access easily when you're online to do some quick on-the-fly calculations, don't forget that you can also use Google's inbuilt calculator, which is a little-known feature available through this search engine giant. Accessing the Google Calculator is easy to do if you use the Firefox browser (where Google is the default search engine) or if you have the Google Toolbar installed in your browser. But you can do it almost as easily through any other browser. How? Simply go to a Google search box - any Google search box - and type your desired calculation into it (eg: 5 * 9 =). Google will detect that your search query is a mathematical expression and will automatically invoke the Google Calculator to give you a result. Google's calculator can solve math problems involving basic arithmetic, more complicated math, units of measure, unit conversions and physical constants. This is usually adequate for most of the everyday calculations that most of us need to do and it involves no downloads at all. The Google Calculator is most useful if you're online all day and probably least useful if you're only an intermittent Net user. But it's 100% free, runs on any operating platform and you can find the instructions for how to use it here:
Get Google Calculator.


This page last updated: 01-Mar-2009


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