Excel online - featured image

Core Differences Between Excel Online and Excel Desktop App

Featured image by Andrey_Popov

Microsoft Excel Online is an alternative to Excel for desktop. It’s especially useful if you often work remotely using the internet. Each version has its pros and cons. In fact, Excel for the web looks a lot like the Excel desktop app. However, there are some key differences you should know about.

For example, not all file formats are available in Excel Online, and some features may work differently than the desktop app. We’re all familiar with Excel nowadays and with its features and functions. However, many of us might not know what research and development has taken place to bring about an online version of Excel.

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To learn about the core differences between Excel Online and Excel desktop app, scroll down. This article explains the differences between the two.

The Online Version Is Missing Some Menus the Desktop App Has

While Microsoft Excel Online offers the core menus you find in Excel for desktop, some menus are entirely missing.

These missing menus include:

  • Draw: This menu allows you to use your mouse to draw lines or highlight areas.
  • Page Layout: In the desktop version you can apply themes, margins, orientation, print areas, and align or organize objects.
  • Timeline: You can use this to visually show events chronologically over a timescale. It’s useful for things like project schedules.
  • Developer: You would use this to add macros or VBA code to a spreadsheet.

You Can’t Put Add-ins into the Online Version

There is no way to put any add-ins into Microsoft Excel online. In fact, the online File menu lacks the Options choice. This is where you would typically go in the Excel desktop app to add those.

Again, this isn’t surprising for an online app. But it is something to consider if you enjoy having the additional features you can get by using add-ins or enabling some of the non-default menus available in Excel for desktop.

Excel Online Does Have Some Notable Features

  • It has the familiar user interface. In other words, you won’t have to make a big adjustment if you are accustomed to doing your work on Excel.
  • The online version is native-format compatible. You can access and run your saved work from Excel Online on the desktop app.
  • You’ll enjoy easier collaboration, as the online version is cloud-based.

But There Are Some Missing Features in Excel Online

  • The online version is exclusively internet-dependent. You can’t edit your data offline unless you download it and make an offline copy.
  • It lacks many features that the desktop counterpart has.
  • You cannot integrate popular file types.

Some Other Differences Can Help You Choose Between the Two

Some other differences that can help you choose between Excel online or its desktop version are:

  1. Excel Online is FREE, while its standard version costs $129 for you to install it to your workstation.
  2. As of right now, there are still many features that Microsoft hasn’t integrated into Excel’s Online version.
  3. But imagine this: What if you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection or it’s down for a prolonged period? Excel Online’s dependence on the internet can be a double-edged sword. It can be either an opportunity or a stress point.
  4. You can run Excel Online on the web at onedrive.live.com, and you can run Excel for desktop on your PC.
  5. Files in Excel Online can only be saved in OneDrive, whereas you can save files created using the desktop version on your computer.


Although both Excel and Excel Online come from the same parent organization, both cater to different users with different spreadsheet needs. Ask yourself these questions when you want to choose between the two available versions:

  • What is your budget?
  • What is your project objective?
  • How complex is the project?
  • How big is your team?

Your answers to these questions will help you determine which version is right for you and your business.