# Instacalc vs Other Tools

Instacalc is my sweet spot for a calculation tool:

- Easy access: web-based, no install
- Anonymous sharing / embeds
- Powerful yet forgiving syntax
- Hide complex calculations (and still show input parameters)
- User-friendly (large fonts, reasonably pretty, not a scary grid)

Here's a few thoughts on finding the best number crunching tool for the job..

Tool | Features | Ease of Use | Share/Embed |
---|---|---|---|

Basic Calculators | Low | High | Low |

Instacalc | Med/High | Med/High | High |

Text-based Scratchpads | Med/High | Med/High | Low |

Spreadsheets | Med/High | Low | Low |

Programming Tools | High | Low | Low |

## Easy: Calculators

Here's our trusty pocket calculator.

- Likes: Simple, familiar, preinstalled.
- Limitations: Difficult to do multi-step calcualtions, or edit typos in previous inputs. Hard to see/share thought process.

Still, like everyone else, I reach for this when I need a fast one-off answer.

## Medium: Calc Scratchpads

Soulver, Numi, Apple Notes and other scratchpads take a text-first approach. They are "doc-first": you write text, which is ignored, with calculations sprinked in. (Words are ignored, numbers & symbols are recognized as calculations).

Likes: Easy editing, can copy/paste multiple lines, minimalist UI

Limitations: Hard to make a "calculator", with input variables separate from computed results.

For example, here's my blog, explaining Bayes' Theorem:

The article has a lot of text. I want a quick way to demo the equation, without reading formulas. Compare the screenshot to the text version:

```
Bayes Theorem
Actual_probability = 1% = 1%
Prob_true_positive = 80% = 80%
Prob_false_positive = 9.6% = 9.6%
Chance positive test means positive result
$$(r1 * r2)/((r1 * r2) + r3*(1-r1)) * 100 = 7.76 %
```

While technically usable, the formula is too much detail when people want to play with the numbers.

Also, most scratchpads have limited syntax (or are built on MathJS), without the full flexibility I wanted (see Wolfram Alpha compare for what I wanted to handle).

The dedicated apps make it hard to share/embed your numbers (some are web-based, however).

Still, I really like the clean look of these text-first tools. As a homage to that style, I made Calcr, aka instacalc in scratchpad form: https://calcr.com/

## Advanced: Excel

Spreadsheets are our familiar, big-mamma-jamma number crunching tool.

I think the comparison is pretty clear:

- Like: Powerful, well-known
- Drawback: Overkill for most users. Thousands of cells, tiny fonts, difficult syntax, feels like work, hard to share.

## Advanced: Programming tools (Frink, JS)

Programming tools/REPLs can work for quick calculations. However, they are programming languages, with the fiddly syntax, and too difficult for the average user.