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PowerPoint Online vs Full PowerPoint 2016 on Your Desktop

This post is part of a series called How to Use PowerPoint (Ultimate Tutorial Guide).
How to Learn PowerPoint Quickly (Complete 2021 Beginner's Guide + Video)
10 Key Microsoft PowerPoint Features (To Make Better Presentations)

Using the term "PowerPoint" alone no longer describes how you actually use the app. You might be talking about PowerPoint on iPad or Android, the PowerPoint desktop apps for Windows or even PowerPoint in a web browser. This is called Microsoft PowerPoint Online.

Microsoft PowerPoint Online Example
This looks like the standard PowerPoint view, but it's taking place inside of a web browser thanks to PowerPoint Online.

In this tutorial, we're going to learn a bit more about Microsoft PowerPoint Online. We'll cover how you can use it and what the key differences are between it and the desktop apps.

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What Versions of PowerPoint Exist?

Microsoft has several different options for how you can purchase or license Microsoft Office, which includes apps like PowerPoint, Excel, and Word. Here are the common ways that you can buy or use Office:

  1. Office 365. This is the subscription-based model for using Office apps, with a monthly or annual package. You'll always have access to the latest version of the Office apps as long as you continue paying for Office 365.
  2. Office Home. The "Home" edition is a one-time purchase of Office with no subscription attached. However, your app won't stay up to date as Microsoft releases new versions and features.
  3. Office Online. Run PowerPoint in a web browser. Regardless of which version of PowerPoint you use, you can pair it with the browser-based version of the app for free.

What Is Microsoft PowerPoint Online?

For those who follow the tech industry, it's hard to miss the shift that Microsoft has been experiencing in recent years. Once upon a time, the Redmond-based giant made its revenue from selling single use licenses of Windows, Office, and other enterprise software.

It's clear that Microsoft has shifted their focus to a more service-driven company. They'd rather sell you a monthly subscription to Office and cloud storage than a single transaction. As part of this shift, Microsoft has built out impressive web versions of their Office apps that you can use right inside of a web browser. 

PowerPoint Online Insert Slide
Microsoft PowerPoint Online has most of the essential tools to create slides, including creating new slides from pre-built layouts.

Enter PowerPoint Online, a capable version of Microsoft's presentation app that you can use from practically any web browser. Best of all: it's free to use. All you need to do is create and login with a Microsoft account.

Using Microsoft PowerPoint Online

To get started with PowerPoint Online, simply jump over to this link. You can log in with a Microsoft account, or create one for free if you don't already have one.

Microsoft PowerPoint Online Example
Microsoft PowerPoint Online looks much like the desktop version of PowerPoint.

Once you're logged in, the online version of the app largely resembles the desktop version that you're likely already familiar with. You can launch a new presentation from one of the theme thumbnails.

You could also upload a presentation from your desktop that's already in progress, and pick up on editing it straight from the browser. Many of the normal tools are right inside your browser to create and edit a presentation.

Key Differences in PowerPoint Online

Don't cancel your Office 365 subscription just yet. The online version of PowerPoint certainly has a few differences and lacks some of the features of the desktop apps. Let's walk through several features that may keep you using the desktop version.

Printing Your Slides

Printing your slides is somewhat limited in the online edition of PowerPoint. While the desktop apps allow you to print everything from notes pages to handouts to full slides, PowerPoint Online is much more limited.

In fact, you can only print one slide per page, with the headers and footers on each slide. Consider this carefully before you count on printing your presentation from a different, web-connected device.

This is particularly important if you're using features like Speaker Notes, the built-in feature to add speaking cues to your slides. Print your slides from a desktop app, or plan on scribbling note cards before the presentation!

Guides & Rulers

Even though Microsoft has done a great job with the browser-based Excel Online, the desktop app is going to be smoother for the foreseeable future. It's much easier to make refined adjustments to your slide deck thanks to features like zooming and alignment.

Guides and Rulers
When pixel perfect matters, only the rulers and gridlines that are available in PowerPoint for Windows or Mac will do.

Also, one of my favorite features is the grid and snapping in the desktop app. It makes it easy to line up multiple elements on your slide and ensure that they are the same size. PowerPoint Online has some of these features, but they aren't quite as polished. If you build really advanced presentations, you may prefer to stay on the desktop app.


One of my favorite features of PowerPoint is the ability to change Views. Views are just different ways to work with your slide deck. 

This includes helpful options like Slide Sorter View, an easy way to drag and drop the slides in your presentation to reorder them. Or, Outline View, to review your content in the classic outline structure to ensure that the content supports your key points.

View Slide Sorter
I frequently use the Slide Sorter view that's only available in the desktop version of PowerPoint to re-sequence and review my slide deck.

Unfortunately, these views are missing from the browser-based version of PowerPoint. You have access to the standard "Normal" view to work with and rearrange slides in the sidebar, but it's a bit limited compared to the desktop app.

Presenter View

Technically, Presenter View is one of the missing views I mentioned above, but it warrants consideration of its own.

I often tout Presenter View as one of my favorite features in Microsoft PowerPoint. This is a special view that you can use when giving a presentation so that the most useful tools for speakers stay in view. It includes essentials like a timer, access to your speaker notes, and the ability to jump between slides.

Presenter View
I always recommend using Presenter View to build comfort when presenting, but this feature is absent from Microsoft PowerPoint Online.

And unfortunately, you won't find this in Microsoft PowerPoint Online. You can switch into the standard Slideshow View from PowerPoint Online, but it only shows the presentation inside the browser.

Microsoft's official documentation has the full roundup of the differences or missing features from PowerPoint Online. Make sure to check this first to make sure your key features are preserved before you make the leap in one direction or another.

Password Protection

This could definitely pose a problem: PowerPoint Online doesn't currently support working with password-protected presentations. There's no workaround or easy solution for this problem; you'll need to work with these in PowerPoint on Mac or Windows instead.

A Recommendation: Use Both

With all of these options for how to license and use PowerPoint, you might be wondering what the best approach will be for your personal needs. I can think of two specific cases that would affect your choice of which app to use:

  • For the budget-minded. Use PowerPoint Online to create, edit, and view presentations as a free replacement for the desktop apps.
  • For everyone else. Use PowerPoint Online alongside the desktop app to maintain access to your files anywhere you go.

To use PowerPoint between devices and locations, we need a place to keep our files so that they stay in sync. You can certainly use an app like Dropbox to save files, but OneDrive is the most seamless way to marry up the apps. Let's learn more.

OneDrive to Unite Them All

With all of the apps that we've mentioned so far, you might be wondering how Microsoft's OneDrive app fits into the equation for using PowerPoint Online. If you're going to take my advice to use PowerPoint Online and desktop in tandem, OneDrive is the glue that holds it all together.

If you've not heard about it, OneDrive is Microsoft's cloud storage service. Basically, it works a lot like Dropbox or Google Drive, for example. 

You can get five gigabytes of storage for free as part of your Microsoft Account. Think of your Microsoft account as one hub that includes OneDrive and access to PowerPoint Online, so make sure that you don't make separate accounts for each.

Save as to OneDrive
In the desktop version of PowerPoint, make sure to save your files to your OneDrive to make them available everywhere.

OneDrive makes it possible to use the desktop and web versions of PowerPoint seamlessly. Save a presentation to your OneDrive, and it'll be available the next time you log into PowerPoint Online. Make a change to a presentation in your browser, and the desktop version is updated at the same time.

OneDrive is available regardless of which PowerPoint version you've got. If you're using PowerPoint Online, your presentation files are automatically saved to your OneDrive.

My recommended workflow for PowerPoint is to do the following:

  • Start by creating a presentation on either the desktop app or PowerPoint Online. 
  • If you're using the desktop app, make sure you save the presentation to your OneDrive from the File tab.
  • In Microsoft PowerPoint Online, documents you create are automatically saved to OneDrive, so nothing extra to do here.

Keeping all of your PowerPoint presentations in OneDrive gives you a second level of assurance that your presentation is stored safely. In addition, making OneDrive your main storage for presentations will make it available no matter where you're working from.

You don't have to choose one version or the other. PowerPoint Online is an ideal supplement to your desktop PowerPoint app, and capable enough if you don't want to buy PowerPoint.

Recap & Keep Learning

PowerPoint Online is one of the most exciting things that Microsoft has done as they've pivoted to focusing on "freemium" services designed to entice paying users. The browser-based version of PowerPoint Online is plenty good enough for most users.

The best combination, however, is using PowerPoint Online as a supplement to your desktop app. The ability to make quick changes to your presentation from any computer is a huge advantage.

Don't stop here. Even seasoned PowerPoint presenters can still pick up a few tricks from the tutorials below:

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Have you tried out Microsoft PowerPoint Online? Let me know in the comments if you have any tips or tricks to share.

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