Excel Online vs Excel Desktop: What’s the Difference?

If you don’t know about Excel Online yet, you are missing something big.

Microsoft offers an online version of all its major applications (including Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and so on).

And this guide is all about the online version of Microsoft Excel.

Microsoft Excel Online is a good substitute for the Excel desktop app. The online version mostly resembles the desktop version but still stands behind it.

To know why and how continue reading the guide below 👇

Microsoft Excel Online

We have all used Excel at some point in our lives. But many of us might not know that there exists an online version of Excel, too😬

It is more of a lite version of Microsoft Excel’s desktop app. Both versions are just about the same, but the web app has some pros and cons, which are discussed below.

For now, here’s what it mostly looks like.

Excel online

Here’s a brief list of the Pros and Cons of the online version of Excel 🧾


  • Familiar user interface. If you are used to working on the Excel desktop app, you will find Excel Online very familiar to your eyes. Excel Online version looks just the same as the desktop version of Excel.
  • With Excel online being cloud-based, you get an easier collaboration. Access any file from any device, at any time.
  • You don’t need to worry about not being able to use the Excel files created in Excel online in your Excel desktop app. This is because the online version is in a native format compatible. Your desktop app will run any file that you create/save online.
  • Let’s not forget, it comes for free. So no charges, just log into your Microsoft account and go spread-sheeting 🏄‍♀️


  • You can’t access your files offline unless you have downloaded them and made an offline copy. This is because Excel online is exclusively internet-dependent.
  • Not all file formats are endorsed.
  • Compared to the desktop app, there are some missing features – especially: Macros and VBA.
  • Excel Online is just not the spreadsheet program for you if you have a large dataset ahead of you. It runs on very limited storage. And so, will hang to death (or even go unresponsive) when burdened with loads of data.

How to access Excel online

Now that you know an online version of Excel exists, you sure want to access it. 👀

It takes a few steps to access the online version.

  1. Go to office.com.
  2. Scroll down, and you’ll see an Excel icon; Click on it.
  3. This will take you to the following page.
Accessing Excel online
  1. Click on the option highlighted in the above image.
  2. A new tab will open where you will sign in to your Microsoft account.

But wait! You don’t have a Microsoft account? Select the option highlighted in the image below if you don’t have a Microsoft office account.

Log in portal
  1. Enter your credentials to create an account (it takes five minutes or less). And have access to Microsoft Excel Online.
Excel online

Significant differences between Excel online and Excel

There are many differences between both versions. The major ones are listed below:

Let’s discuss each of them to compare the two sides of Excel.

Draw tab

If you’re an Excel user, you probably won’t have heard about the Draw tab in Excel. But wait! There exists a draw tab in the Excel web app? Look for yourself.

Draw tab Excel online

The Draw tab holds a variety of options for you to choose from. You can draw lines and more amazingly, you don’t have to rely on a mere set of in-built shapes. Simply create one the way you like.

Imagine how fun it will be to draw on an Excel sheet 🤩

Apart from this, when you download Excel files in which any draw feature is used, it will appear the same on the desktop app. But you won’t be able to make many edits to it in the desktop app.

This is one of Excel Online’s features that gives it a plus point compared to its desktop counterpart ✌

Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist

Page layout

The editing options of the page layout tab make one of the most notable differences between Excel Online and Excel desktop.

Excel’s Online version lacks a lot of the features you have access to in the desktop app. Take a quick look at them.

Here’s what the Page Layout tab from the desktop version of Excel looks like.

Page layout in desktop app

Microsoft Excel Online offers only the following features under the Page Layout tab.

Page layout online app

There is not much you can do to arrange your document pages the way you want them with the web app. So, the desktop version takes the point for this one.

Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist


If you commonly use the timeline feature in Excel, you will be disappointed when you get your hands on the online version. The complete smart art menu is absent.

Here is what the insert tab from the desktop Excel app looks like.

Excel Insert tab

And here is a much-squeezed version of the insert tab offered by the Web App.

Insert menu in web app

The Excel desktop app clearly wins here 😬

View menu

By far, this has to be the most tremendous difference between the two versions of Excel. The view menu alone makes a big, big difference between Excel web and Excel desktop.

There are a total of five options available in the view tab of the web app. Yes, you heard that right, only five:

  • Sheet view
  • Freeze panes
  • Editing grid lines
  • New window
  • Zoom in/zoom out
View tab in online and desktop versions

And here comes a whole wide library of options that the View tab from the desktop version offers.

View tab in desktop version

We guess this point goes to the desktop app again 🤷‍♂️

Developer tab

Let’s get it straight; the online app does not support VBA coding. You cannot even add any macros to your spreadsheet.

So for all the developers out there, the online version is not for you.

Do we even need to tell who gets this point 🙄

Other differences between the two

Till now, we have discussed the major differences between the two versions of Excel. However, there are some other factors too based on which we can differentiate them.

  1. No Add-ins: Pardon us for being the breaker to this sad news, but the Excel Online version doesn’t allow add-ins. So you don’t get to enjoy any additional features other than those offered by Excel Online by default.
  2. Accessibility: Both versions are easily accessible. But Excel Online’s dependence on the internet is a major drawback. Your internet breaking down equates to your Excel breaking down. (In case you are on the online version).
  3. Cost: Microsoft Office Excel (desktop app) costs a whopping $159.99 for one PC installation. The online version, however, comes for free 💰

That’s it – Now what?

Microsoft Office Excel (desktop app) costs a whopping $159.99 for one PC installation. The online version, however, comes for free💰

That’s it – Now what?

This brings us to the end of our comparison. The blog above highlights the key differences between the two versions of Excel.

While the desktop app wins in terms of features and ease of use, it all comes down to the needs of different users. And what suits you the best surely depends upon your needs.

All in all, what stands common to both these amazing versions of Excel are some important Excel functions. Without these functions – Excel is not even half as useful.

Some of the functions that top this list include the VLOOKUP, IF, and SUMIF functions.

Want to master them? Register for my 30-minute free email course to learn these and much more about Excel. 🙌

Other resources

We hope you enjoyed unveiling a new alternative to contemporary Excel.

If you did, you’d love to know about other spreadsheet programs too that can substitute Excel. Learn about them here.