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Microsoft Office vs. Office 365 vs. Office Web Apps: How Do They Differ and How Can They Work Together?

Microsoft Office vs. Office 365 vs. Office Web Apps: How Do They Differ and How Can They Work Together?

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Microsoft Office logoMicrosoft Office is more versatile than ever with three different flavors of the productivity suite now available: the latest version of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office 365, and Microsoft Office Web Apps.

The latest version of Office, available through TechSoup's Microsoft Software Donation Program, is the installed desktop version of the software. Office 365, on the other hand, is Microsoft's subscription program for both online and desktop versions of Office products. Finally, Microsoft Office Web Apps is a free, completely browser-based version of Microsoft Office. Which version makes the most sense for your organization?

Office Web Apps

Microsoft Office Web Apps is a free, Internet-based version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook available through the consumer version of Microsoft SkyDrive. Office Web Apps only requires a Windows Live ID to get started. As long as you have a browser (it is compatible with the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome), you can use Office Web Apps to view and edit files on devices that don't have Office installed on them. You can also create new documents from your browser and store them on SkyDrive. It works similarly to other cloud-based document creation suites out there. The updated 2013 Office Web Apps adds a few new features and a redesigned interface that complements Windows 8 and the new version of Office (read Ars Technica's review of Office Web Apps here)

A screenshot of Word in Microsoft Web Apps

While it is possible to only use Office Web Apps for basic word processing and spreadsheet creation, you'll likely need more functionality for an office environment. For example, in the Office Web Apps version of Word, you can only do basic formatting. Office Web Apps is better used in conjunction with the new version of Office (or older versions of Office) or with your Office 365 subscription.

Both Office Standard 2013 and Office Professional Plus 2013 come with SkyDrive Pro, which you can use to store and access files from Office Web Apps or the desktop version of Microsoft Office. SkyDrive Pro also runs on the newest SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2013 on-premises. Each SkyDrive Pro user gets 7GB of personal storage. For more information, see this TechNet post on SkyDrive Pro

Office (Installed Desktop Version)

Although the latest version of Microsoft Office is desktop-based, one of the big updates in this version is its tight integration with SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud-based file-hosting service. You can start working on a document on one device (such as your work PC) and continue where you left off on another device (like your tablet at home) that has Office installed on it. Microsoft Office will also save your exact location (for example, the specific cell or slide where you left off) in the file.

Office is available through TechSoup to eligible nonprofits, charities, libraries, and foundations. It will only run on systems running Windows 7 or Windows 8, so if your organization is running an operating system other than those, you will not be able to use the latest version of Office. To learn more, read Microsoft Office: What Your Organization Should Know. 

Office 365

Office 365 is Microsoft's hybrid service that offers both web-based and desktop components of the Office suite. Depending on your plan, Office 365 can include a subscription to Office desktop software in addition to hosted versions of Microsoft's Server products (such as Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync) that can be accessed over the Internet. Office Web Apps are included in most versions of Office 365, with storage limits varying by subscription plan. You can use Office 365's online services in conjunction with multiple versions of Office. See Office 365's system requirements here.

If your organization isn't eligible for TechSoup's Office donation, Office 365 could be a potential alternative. Additionally, you might consider Office 365 if your organization is running Windows Vista or XP. If you do plan on using Office 365, we recommend making the upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8 as soon as possible as Office 365 support for Vista and XP will end on January 1, 2014.

For a full breakdown of features and pricing plans for Office 365, see Microsoft's Office 365 version page.

Based on the size of your staff, the programs they use, and the features they rely on to do their jobs, you should be able to determine which versions of Office are most suitable for your organization.

Questions? Leave them in the comments below.

Ginny Mies is a Content Curator at TechSoup Global.

  • Could You Benefit from Office 365? Find Out! Learn if your nonprofit or library could benefit from migrating to Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 with npOffice — a special TechSoup service from npCloud:

    www.techsoup.org/.../npoffice-office-365-assessment--G-47424--Tasks

    During this assessment (admin fee: $10), npCloud will review your systems and how you communicate.If you decide to migrate to Office 365 they’ll create the email accounts, shared mailboxes, and shared calendars for your organization. They’ll even handle account configuration, data migration, and user training.

  • Thank you for this article...it provides the best explanation of MS crazy new product/pricing plan. I even called MS on the phone to get an explanation of the difference between the products and the sales person could only explain Office 365 and not the other products.

  • We will be setting up a contact data base (about 500 to 1,000 people) in each city (about 25 cities in the next 5 years) for our Vibrant Communities program. Wiould Office 365 with outlook  with each city a category - make sense? Lee lee@treefresno.org