Differences between Microsoft Excel Online and Excel for desktop

If you have an Office 365 subscription, you have access to all the features that the cloud versions of Office applications offer. But does this mean that Microsoft Excel Online has all the features you would find in Excel for desktop?

In this article, we will compare the two side by side and show you which features you will miss when using Microsoft Excel Online.

The start menu

Starting with the start menu, at first glance it may seem that the menu in Microsoft Excel online is missing many buttons in the Excel for desktop version.

This isn’t technically true, it’s just that the online version makes more use of drop-down menus.

So what’s missing from Microsoft Excel Online? In the Home menu, you will find that all of the following functions of Excel for desktop are missing in the online version.

  • Percentage style and comma style from the Number group.
  • Customize new table formatting styles.
  • Customize new cell formatting styles.
  • Protect a leaf.
  • Lock a cell.
  • Fill rows or columns in any direction.
  • The whole clear menu is missing (to clear formats, comments and more).
  • Most of the Find & Select menu is missing (formulas, notes, constants, and more).

For the most part, when it comes to the Home menu, you really don’t lose any of the core functionality found in Excel for desktop. Just about any formatting (including conditional formatting) that you can do on the desktop version, you can do just as well in Excel online.

The Insert Menu

The Insert menu also looks pretty basic in the online version of Excel, but again, this is because most of the advanced functions are buried in submenus.

On the Insert menu, you will miss the following features of Excel for desktop if you use the online version of Excel.

  • Creating a pivot table lacks the ability to use an external data source, and you cannot analyze multiple tables at once.
  • No option to insert icons, 3D models or SmartArt.
  • Charts and Chart Options are missing dramatically.
  • Text box, WordArt, a signature line and objects are missing.
  • No symbols menu.

The main difference in the Insert menu between the online and desktop versions of Excel is definitely the charts menu.

Microsoft Excel online has a selection of charts, but they are very basic. You will find 2D column, line, pie, bar and area charts.

However, in Excel for Desktop, you get a huge collection of each of these chart types. These include 2D and 3D versions of most chart and graph types, treemap and sunburst, histogram, scatter and bubble charts, and even 2D and 3D maps.

If you create a lot of advanced charts in Excel, you will probably be very disappointed by the lack of options in Microsoft Excel online.

The Formulas menu

If you select the formulas menu in Microsoft Excel online expecting to see the variety of options in Excel for desktop, you are in for quite a surprise.

In fact, the menu is almost completely empty. When you compare this to Excel for desktop, it’s quite shocking how much functionality is missing.

You can see that the formulas menu in Excel for desktop is just filled with whole dropdown menus with all those formulas organized in submenus. There are also groups in the ribbon with formula checking functions, and a viewing window

The only features that match Excel Online in this area is the ability to activate the calculation of formulas in the sheet. Does this mean that formulas are missing in Microsoft Excel online? Not at all. You just have to approach them differently.

If you select the function icon next to the formula field, you will see a pop-up window where you can search for one of the many functions that Excel provides.

If you have the Choose a category dropdown to All, you will see that just about all of the formula functions you would expect in Excel are there. You just have to find them slightly different than in Excel for desktop.

The data menu

At first glance, it’s pretty obvious that Microsoft Excel online only has about half of the features present in the Excel for desktop version. None of those missing features can be found in hidden menus either.

The following Facts menu functions are missing in Microsoft Excel online:

  • No ability to “get data” from external sources such as text, web, or database files.
  • No advanced filter options
  • The data tools group has no text to columns, flash fill, consolidation, and relationships.
  • There are no forecast or summary groups at all that you will find on the Excel for desktop ribbon.

Even with all those Facts menu functions are missing, it is in any case a good thing that Microsoft Excel online does offer the possibility to download stocks and geographical data sources from the Internet.

If you’re not interested in using Excel to retrieve external data sources, most of the features are missing in the Facts menu will not bother you.

The Review Menu

In Excel for desktop, the Review menu is where you normally go to edit and check spelling. If you’ve used this in the desktop version of Excel, you’re used to adding comments, notes, and even using an embedded thesaurus.

So which of these features are missing from the online version of Excel?

  • No embedded thesaurus.
  • Smart Lookup insights are missing.
  • Missing translation tool.
  • No “Notes” feature, but you can convert Notes to Notes.
  • Unable to protect the workbook or sheet.
  • No editing function for “inks”.

If you do a lot of editing (especially other people’s work), and you really need the inking or note-taking feature you have in Excel for desktop, you will be very disappointed by Microsoft Excel online. This is especially true if you use the thesaurus that you find in the desktop version.

The playback menu

The Vision menu in Excel for desktop is filled with many features. At this point, you may not be surprised to learn that Microsoft Excel online lacks a lot of it.

All you can do is create a private sheet view, open a new spreadsheet window, freeze panels, or hide and show headers and gridlines.

All other features are missing, such as:

  • Page break, page layout, and custom views.
  • Hide the formula bar.
  • Zoom functions.
  • Organize, split, hide or switch windows.
  • macros.

Most of these features are not really relevant for an online app anyway. For example, there is no way to create or run VBA macros in a browser-based application. Most of these missing features should not affect your use of Microsoft Excel online in general.

Menus that are completely missing

While Microsoft Excel Online provides the core menus you find in Excel for desktop, there are actually entire menus that are completely missing.

These menus include:

  • Draw: Use your mouse to draw lines or mark areas
  • page layout: Apply themes, margins, orientation, print areas, and align or organize objects
  • Timeline: Visually display events chronologically over a time scale – useful for things like project schedules
  • Developer: Add macros or VBA code to a spreadsheet

In addition, there is no way to add additional add-ins or menus to Microsoft Excel online, as the File menu is missing the Options choice where you would normally go in Excel for desktop to add it.

Again, this is not surprising for an online app. But it’s something to consider if you enjoy adding a lot of extra features to Excel by using add-ins or by enabling some of the non-standard menus available in Excel for desktop.

The final verdict

Considering all the core features available online in Microsoft Excel versus everything that is missing compared to the Excel for desktop version, the online version can fall short. But that doesn’t mean it’s useless.

If you typically only use Excel for the most common uses, such as creating spreadsheets for calculations or organization, you’ll find everything you need online in Microsoft Excel. If you need to bring in external resources or if you do a lot of VBA coding or macros, you’ll want to keep using Excel for desktop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.