Feature comparison between Office Desktop and Office Web

Why I can't live without the desktop versions of Microsoft Office

by Pete
Published: Updated: 10 minutes read

There are those who use full desktop versions of Microsoft Office, and there are some who really use the full desktop versions of Office. There are some who use the desktop version Office and could easily get away with the web versions. I’m not one of those people – I need the full experience for the most part of what I do.

My day job is in IT management; to do my job effectively (and efficiently), I need a suite of tools that go the extra mile, without compromise.

As a native linux desktop user convert – how will I cope??

Wait, there’s a difference?

I personally have an O365 subscription that allows me to install the full desktop versions of Office on my computer, and also my workplace offers me the same thing. Office Desktop is the standard suite of document editing tools provided by my employer and it’s baked into the SOE (standard operating environment). Some companies will go with Gsuite which is web-only, and others will opt for pertual versions of Office. For the purposes of this exploration, I’ll be discussing why I, personally, cannot solely use the web versions of Office.

And yes, there’s a functional difference between, for example, the features you get with Word for Web and Word for Desktop. There’s a neat table where Microsoft compare Word, Excel, OneNote and Powerpoint Web and Desktop versions and after finding that resource, I was both surprised at the level of functionality that the web version offers, and on the flip-side, was surprised that there’s still, speaking personally here, a large gap on features I’d deem important.

Power users take note

Word

  • Track Changes and merge, compare, and combine documents, are only available in the Word desktop app (ie advanced collaboration)
  • Advanced page layout features, such as page borders and line numbers, are only available in the Word desktop app
  • SmartArt – does anyone actually use SmartArt? If you do, there’s no options for the Web App
Features available for Word for the web and Word desktop app
Features available for Word for the web and Word desktop app

Excel

  • Check boxes and option buttons are desktop only features
  • Advanced time filtering is not available when using the web app (time filtering is for filtering modeled data)
  • Limited data connection features using the web app
  • Advanced formula tools are only available in the desktop app
  • Chart recommendations are desktop app only
  • Workbooks that are >50MB in size cannot be viewed using the web app
Features available for Excel for the web and Excel desktop app
Features available for Excel for the web and Excel desktop app

PowerPoint

  • Rich formatting is not available in the web app
  • Limited selection of animations and transitions
  • Headers and footers are a desktop only feature
  • Integration with Excel charts is a desktop only feature
  • Presenter view is a no-go for the web version
  • Advanced reviewing tools are desktop only
Features available for PowerPoint for the web and PowerPoint desktop app
Features available for PowerPoint for the web and PowerPoint desktop app

Teams

A definitive list for Teams web app vs desktop is a little harder to officially come-by. At face value, there’s not a lot of difference between the two version apart from performance gain from the desktop app (that I noticed anyway), and the availability of additional background options.

Microsoft talks about feature differences between plans more than platforms.

Where the web wins

It’s not all bad news for web-only users – there are actually some features where the web wins over the desktop version.

Word

  • You get emoji support in the web version
  • The Catchup button – this is where you can activity others have made – then you click the button, and the document updates
  • Designer feature offers the ability to choose styles / themes to your document automatically

Excel

  • Embed workbook on web or blog page (OneDrive)
  • Rename a file when workbook is open
  • Create Surveys in Excel for Web where Excel will generate a nice form

PowerPoint

Do I really need these Desktop features?

If you’re a power user like me, the above features (aside from SmartArt) are frequently used, so I prefer the desktop version when performing large edits or crunching large spreadsheets with external data sources. If someone is sharing a simple sheet or presentation that does not make extensive use of shapes, I will gladly use the web versions.

Online collaboration works better in an educational or business setting, but some non-power users will collaborate via the web. As a result, each situation is unique.

In a parallel universe, there’s a native version of O365 Desktop for Linux

Microsoft dangled their Linux Teams client in front of us, and we devoured it; unfortunately, it was a preview with so few features that the webapp was superior. I believe every Linux user secretly hoped for a Linux version of Office 365, but it was not to be—at least not in this universe.

There are numerous Reddit posts about users attempting WINE installations without complete success; I’m specifically referring to Outlook here because some applications work fine but not all.

In the mean time…

… there’s my work laptop, which is running Windows, and my desktop, which is still dual booting to Windows so I can use the desktop versions of Office 365. I can hear all you Apple users giggling that there are native versions available for MAC (see here for a comparison on different platforms for Word), but the joke is on you because it isn’t the full experience compared to its Windows counterpart.