Office365 Review

There’s a big difference between the desktop versions of Office and what you see in the online versions through Office 365. The important thing to accept is that the online versions are about editing, not creation. They are about collaboration with colleagues. They are not really about starting a new document.

Microsoft seem to have made a very specific decision about what you will be doing online, and a quick look at the menu items will make this clear. Only about a third of the features are included, and these are focussed on editing an existing document. You can then invite colleagues to join the document, working on different parts of the same file.

Let’s focus on PowerPoint to see how different things are, and to appreciate what Microsoft, and sometimes the technology itself, has decided on the features you have been given. Just the number of menus will give you an idea of what’s to come.

PowerPoint online v Desktop App

PowerPoint Online menu graphic
PowerPoint online Home tab
PowerPoint desktop Home tab graphic
PowerPoint desktop Home tab
Microsoft Office365 – PowerPoint Product Page

Microsoft Office changed to a different document format with Office 2007. The original format was a binary one, where as the new versions used Open XML, which had better security, much smaller file sizes and better and more stable exchange of data between applications. This meant that some PowerPoint features were lost or changed in how they worked, but all in all the software remained as feature-rich as you would expect. Some core differences were introduced at this stage. Theme management being the main one, but new transitions and animation stages were added, too.

Web technology and Office Online

When Office 365 was introduced, most people saw it as a subscription service for the new Office 2013 suite. These are actually two different things. Office for desktop and Office Online.

Compatibility is mostly intact, but some things had to give. Macros, which a lot of people use in everyday use to automate actions, became problematic. The standard programming language for macros is VBA, but this is COM technology which relies heavily on a Windows environment and isn’t possible in an online one, so Microsoft developed Typescript. This is based on JavaScript, and any macro that will need to run online will have to use this language in future. In saying that, VBA is not dead and will run quite happily on the desktop software.

Editing and feature differences

The desktop version is the same as always, with Microsoft upgrading or adding features almost monthly. The emphasis online is on uploading a presentation to your OneDrive and editing it. For a collaborative team in different offices or regions, this is extremely powerful. For most other users, it would make more sense to stay with desktop files and software. The functionality online doesn’t include a list of features you might want to use when creating a new report, for instance, and the presentation you initially upload to collaborate with needs to be at an advanced level to make sense. Tables, most shapes and most SmartArt can be inserted, but no charting. That’s right, no charts. If your uploaded presentation includes a chart, it appears as a set graphic online. No editing ability at all.

Transitions and animation abilities are also reduced. All of the main settings are there, but it isn’t a major surprise that some very particular settings are missing, and this is partly due to the web-based environment. Take into account that if you’ve used a non-supported transition in the desktop file, it remains intact if you don’t make any changes.

Adding media is possible online, but limited to stored video like YouTube, where you enter the URL for the video you want to use.

Example PowerPoint online slide


If you’re a general user of Office applications, it’s worth thinking about what will suite you best. Having the desktop version on a laptop may well be a better solution if there is a time when internet access is lost or not available. If you’re an IT manager, you might have the opportunity to realistically have some people as online users across the business, but all of your administrative staff on desktop apps. For instance, if you have a lot of macros to facilitate the templates you use, desktop is likely required, but general stationery, forms or promotional material can easily be dealt with online, via a company OneDrive.

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