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PowerPoint Online vs. Full PowerPoint on Your Desktop

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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)
20 Key Microsoft PowerPoint Features (to Make Better Presentations) + Video

Did you know that Microsoft PowerPoint Online is basically PowerPoint for the web?

Using the term "PowerPoint" alone no longer describes how you 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.

PowerPoint online image introPowerPoint online image introPowerPoint online image intro
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 (part of Office on the web), the PowerPoint web-based application. You can create a PPT online with no other apps needed. We'll cover how you can use it and what the key differences are between it and the PowerPoint desktop app.

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What Versions of PowerPoint Exist?

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

  1. Microsoft 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 & Student, also sometimes called Office Home & Student 2021. The "Home & Student" edition is a one-time purchase of Office with no subscription attached. But 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. Microsoft PowerPoint online sounds pretty cool, right?

As you can see, there are many options. You're probably making the choice between PowerPoint desktop and the PowerPoint web version, also known as PowerPoint Online. Read on to learn more about the two versions of PowerPoint.

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. 

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

Enter PowerPoint Online. It's 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.

There are many reasons you might want to use PowerPoint online but consider this one: freedom of movement. If you're jumping between many devices, you'll benefit from the PowerPoint web version. You can continue working where you left off with no gaps. 

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. Remember, it's free to use PowerPoint online.

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Microsoft PowerPoint Online looks much like the desktop version of PowerPoint. You can do much of the same things using PowerPoint for the web too!

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:

1. Printing Your Slides

Printing your slides is somewhat limited in the online edition of PowerPoint but it's seen some additions, here in 2023. Before, PowerPoint Online would only let you print one slide per page. Now you can print full page slides, slides with notes, or handouts with three slides per page. It's an improvement!

But the desktop apps allow you to print everything from notes pages to handouts to full slides. There are more options than what you get with PowerPoint Online. 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!

2. Guides & Rulers

Microsoft has done a great job with the browser-based PowerPoint Online. But 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 RulersGuides and RulersGuides and Rulers
When pixel perfect matters, only the rulers and gridlines that are available in PowerPoint for Windows or Mac will do. This PowerPoint template is available on Envato Elements.

Also, one of my favorite features is the grid and snapping in the desktop app. It makes it easy to line up many elements on your slide and ensure that they're 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 SorterView Slide SorterView 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. This PowerPoint template is available on Envato Elements.

Unfortunately, many of these views are missing from the browser-based version of PowerPoint. You've got 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. You can now also use Slide Sorter view in PowerPoint for the Web.

4. 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 ViewPresenter ViewPresenter 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.

5. 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 these options for how to license and use PowerPoint, you might wonder what the best approach is 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 the apps that we've mentioned so far, you might wonder 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. It includes OneDrive and access to PowerPoint Online, so make sure that you don't make separate accounts for each.

Save as to OneDriveSave as to OneDriveSave 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 for the Web, 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 your PowerPoint presentations in OneDrive gives you a second level of assurance that your presentation is stored safely. Plus, making OneDrive your main storage for presentations makes 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.

The Ultimate Source for PowerPoint Presentation Templates (With Unlimited Use)

Need to find PowerPoint online templates for your next project? Trying to make a winning impression? Head for Envato Elements

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Stunning PowerPoint online templates - with unlimited downloads.

There, you'll unlock unlimited downloads of PowerPoint templates, along with other creative assets. It's all available for a flat monthly rate. 

Envato Elements is the best value for creatives today. You benefit from designer-quality PPT online templates that wow any audience. 

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Browse thousands of PowerPoint presentation templates on Envato Elements.

Plus, you save precious time by having the design work done for you. All you've got to do is drop in your own content. With unlimited downloads, you can try out as many templates as you want.

Even better: Elements gives you all the content you need to fill up your slides. Explore categories like:

  • beautiful stock images
  • sleek custom fonts
  • cool background music
  • refined 3D objects

What are you waiting for? Join Envato Elements today and join the ranks of the world's top PowerPoint creators.

5 Best PowerPoint Online Presentation Designs (From Envato Elements)

Let's explore five of the very best PowerPoint designs for your next slide deck. Whether you're using PPT online or PowerPoint desktop, these work well for a variety of topics. 

Each of these PowerPoint templates comes from Envato Elements, the all-you-can-download resource for creatives. Let's take a look:

1. Be. PowerPoint Presentation Template

Be PowerPoint online templateBe PowerPoint online templateBe PowerPoint online template

A PowerPoint presentation should complement your message. Be does exactly that, with 125 sleek, minimalist slides inside. It also comes with free font icons, and easy-to-edit graphics. In a few clicks, you can make every slide your own.

2. Kalium Corporate PowerPoint Presentation

Kalium template to use PowerPoint onlineKalium template to use PowerPoint onlineKalium template to use PowerPoint online

Want to use PowerPoint online to collaborate with your global team? Turn to Kalium, a refined template for business. It's professional and elegant but uses bright colors to keep things interesting. This one works well in PPT online to build slides together.

3. Alisha Brand Template

Alisha PPT online templateAlisha PPT online templateAlisha PPT online template

Alisha is an ideal template for portfolio use. You won't find these rich layouts in a PowerPoint free download! With rustic, earthy tones, the deck conveys a warm spirit. 34 custom slides are full of content placeholders where you can add your own material.

4. Olivia - Fashion PowerPoint Presentation Template

Olivia PowerPoint web version templateOlivia PowerPoint web version templateOlivia PowerPoint web version template

The best PowerPoint presentation templates make a fashion statement for you. Olivia is the perfect example. Open it in PowerPoint desktop or the PowerPoint web version. Either way, you'll find over 30 custom slides inside. Bold fonts and sizable images bring your content to everyone's attention - fast!

5. Karbon PowerPoint Presentation Template

Use PowerPoint online creative agency templateUse PowerPoint online creative agency templateUse PowerPoint online creative agency template

Let's face it: dull PowerPoint slides won't keep your audience engaged. When you work in PowerPoint online, try to choose bright layouts wherever possible. This PowerPoint template delivers exactly that. There are over 100 colorful slides! Each one features different types of content, like charts, infographics, and timelines.

More Top PowerPoint Presentation Templates

Once you know about PowerPoint templates, I'll bet that you'll always use them to design presentations. PPT online is an easy-to-use tool, and it's even easier when you use pre-built templates.

Check out three more articles with options for top templates for PowerPoint desktop - and the PowerPoint web version!

Learn More About PowerPoint

PowerPoint Online is one of the most exciting things that Microsoft has done. 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 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:

Grab This eBook on Making Great Presentations (Free Download)

We've got the perfect complement to a professional PowerPoint template. It'll help you learn how to write, design, and deliver great presentations.

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Download The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations now for FREE with a subscription to the Tuts+ Business Newsletter. Get your ideas formed into a powerful presentation that'll move your audience.

Do You Prefer Microsoft PowerPoint Online or PowerPoint Desktop?

Have you tried out Microsoft PowerPoint Online (PowerPoint for the Web)? Both PowerPoint for the web and PowerPoint desktop have their pros and cons. PowerPoint web versus PowerPoint desktop often boils down to your presentation's needs.

Looking to work on the go or on a budget? Microsoft PowerPoint Online could be the perfect choice for you. But PowerPoint for web-based browsers lacks some of what you get in the PowerPoint desktop application. Which one is the right choice for you? Why not give them both a try?

Editorial Note: This post was originally published on December 12, 2017. It's been comprehensively updated with special help from Andrew Childress and Daisy Ein.

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