As a training company, we've encountered numerous queries regarding the distinctions between the online and desktop versions of Microsoft 365 apps. A common thread among these inquiries is whether the desktop version is necessary for our training sessions. Our standard advice has been that if a desktop version is available, it typically offers the best experience for training purposes due to its comprehensive feature set and functionality.

We've compiled a guide to help demystify the differences between the online and desktop versions of Microsoft 365's most popular apps: Excel, Power BI, Word, PowerPoint, and Teams.

Excel 365

Online vs. Desktop: Key Differences

  • Accessibility: Online for anywhere access; Desktop for offline work.
  • Features: Desktop offers advanced data analysis tools like PowerPivot.
  • Performance: Desktop handles large datasets more efficiently.

Exclusive Desktop Features

  1. Power Query for complex data manipulation.
  2. Advanced chart types not found online.
  3. Macros and VBA for automation.
  4. Custom function creation.
  5. Enhanced pivot tables for detailed data analysis.



Power BI

Online vs. Desktop: Key Differences

  • Data Connectivity: Desktop connects to more data sources.
  • Data Preparation: Desktop has extensive data modelling capabilities.
  • Publishing and Sharing: Online focuses on sharing insights.

Exclusive Desktop Features

  1. Rich data transformation and modelling.
  2. Extensive database and cloud service connections.
  3. Advanced report authoring.
  4. Desktop visuals editing.
  5. Report viewing in offline mode.

See our Power BI Online Training page for more answers to commonly asked Power BI questions.  To get the most out of Power BI training we recommend using the desktop version of Power BI.



Word 365

Online vs. Desktop: Key Differences

  • Editing Tools: Desktop version includes more advanced tools.
  • Document Complexity: Desktop better handles large, complex documents.
  • Customisation: More customisation options in the desktop version.

Exclusive Desktop Features

  1. Advanced reference tools like Table of Contents, Citations.
  2. Mail Merge for mass letters or emails.
  3. Full Track Changes and commenting for detailed document review.
  4. Advanced image and text formatting capabilities.
  5. Macros for repetitive tasks.



PowerPoint 365

Online vs. Desktop: Key Differences

  • Design Tools: Desktop has more advanced design and formatting options.
  • Animations and Transitions: More variety available in the desktop version.
  • Presentation Features: Desktop includes Presenter View and recording options.

Exclusive Desktop Features

  1. Morph Transition for smooth animations.
  2. Presenter View for better control during presentations.
  3. Advanced animation and transition options.
  4. Recording narration and timing.
  5. Slide Master for comprehensive template customisation.





Online vs. Desktop: Key Differences

  • Notifications: Desktop notifications are more prominent.
  • Meeting Features: Desktop offers background effects and more.
  • Hardware Integration: Better in the desktop app.

Exclusive Desktop Features

  1. Background effects and Together Mode in meetings.
  2. System audio sharing during presentations.
  3. Handling multiple accounts and tenants smoothly.
  4. Offline mode for reading messages without an internet connection.
  5. Direct integration with Windows 10 notifications.



Your Questions Answered

  1. If I have Microsoft 365 business suite, do I get the online and desktop versions? Yes, you typically get both the online and desktop versions of Microsoft apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and others, depending on the specific plan you're subscribed to.

  2. How do I know if I have the desktop version or not? You can check by searching for the application (e.g., Word, Excel) in your computer's search bar. If the application is installed, it should appear in the search results. Alternatively, check your installed programs list through the Control Panel on Windows or the Applications folder on Mac.

  3. How do I get the desktop version? If you're subscribed to a Microsoft 365 plan that includes the desktop versions, you can download the apps from the Microsoft 365 dashboard. Sign in to your Microsoft account online, navigate to the software section, and you'll find the option to install the apps on your computer.

  4. Do I need to pay extra for the desktop version? No, you don't need to pay extra if your Microsoft 365 subscription plan includes the desktop versions. The cost of the desktop apps is included in the subscription fee.

  5. Can I have the desktop versions on multiple devices? Yes, depending on your subscription plan, Microsoft allows you to install the Office apps on multiple devices, including PCs, Macs, tablets, and phones.

  6. Do I need to get the desktop versions of all programmes or just the ones I need? E.g., Excel. You have the flexibility to install the entire suite of applications or select individual apps, such as only Excel, during the installation process. It's up to you and your specific needs.

  7. Can I share my Microsoft 365 subscription with others? Yes, certain Microsoft 365 subscription plans allow you to share your subscription with additional users, each with their own installation privileges and separate OneDrive storage.

  8. What's the difference in update frequency between the online and desktop versions? The online versions of Office apps are updated continuously with new features and security updates. Desktop versions also receive regular updates, but you can control when to apply these updates based on your preference or IT policies.

  9. Is my data automatically backed up in the online version? Yes, documents created or stored in the online version are automatically saved to OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service, providing a backup and easy access from any device.

  10. Can I use the Office apps offline with the Office 365 Business suite? With the desktop versions, you can work offline without any issues. Any changes made to documents while offline will sync automatically once you reconnect to the internet. The online versions, naturally, require an internet connection.

  11. What happens to my data if I cancel my Microsoft 365 subscription? If you cancel your subscription, your Office apps will enter a reduced functionality mode, where viewing and printing documents are possible, but editing or creating new documents is not. You'll want to ensure your data is backed up or exported before cancellation.

  12. Are there any differences in security features between the online and desktop versions? Both versions benefit from Microsoft's robust security features. However, the online versions leverage cloud-based security measures, including two-factor authentication and advanced threat detection, while the desktop versions rely more on your device's security settings and software updates for protection.

Apps Without Desktop Counterparts

Certain apps, such as Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Stream, are designed purely for online use, focusing on collaboration and communication without traditional desktop applications.


Concluding Advice

Choosing between online and desktop versions depends on your specific needs. For comprehensive training sessions requiring access to the full suite of Microsoft's productivity tools, the desktop version emerges as the clear winner. However, for tasks prioritising accessibility and collaboration, the online versions offer significant advantages.

 See Microsoft 365 User Training for a full list of 365 courses. 











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