Wow, great question, and one that a lot of people still aren’t clear on. And you know what? I can’t really blame them. Microsoft’s branding around the ‘Office 365’ name isn’t overly clear at times, and there are so many different products and features involved, that it can be hard to keep track of what’s what.
So let’s try and clear things up a little, shall we? To start with, you need to remember that ‘Office 365’ is actually a collection of different products and services, and you get different combinations of those bits depending on which plan you subscribe to.
Two of the main ‘cloud services’ that you can get with an Office 365 subscription are Exchange Online for your email, and SharePoint Online for document management and collaboration. Being cloud services, these are entirely online only, with nothing to install on your computer.
To access these cloud services you can use either web apps or locally installed apps.
Web apps are applications that you can access simply using a web browser such as Internet Explorer, or Google Chrome. They are online only, in the sense that there is nothing to install on your computer, and you must be connected to the internet to use them.
They usually have less features than their ‘full blooded’ siblings, however for a lot of people may be sufficient. You can check them out for free here (note that this link isn’t to Office 365, but will give you an idea of what the web apps are like).
Here are some of the key web apps that you can get through an Office 365 subscription.
Outlook Web App – OWA
The Outlook Web App (OWA) lets you access all of your Exchange Online content, such as your email, calendars and contacts.
The SharePoint portal lets you access all of your SharePoint Online content, such as files and shared calendars.
Office Online lets you use browser based, online-only versions of the familiar Microsoft Office products including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
Office 2013 Desktop Licenses
Some of the Office 365 plans that you can subscribe to come with licenses for you to install the full version of Microsoft Office 2013 onto your computer. This is clearly not online only, as you install the software onto your computer, and you do not need an active internet connection to use it.
This install can include the full versions of the familiar Microsoft Office software such as Word and Excel, along with some other apps you may not have used before such as Lync and OneDrive for Business.
Now even though these apps are not online-only, and will function quite happily without an internet connection, they are designed to work closely with your Office 365 cloud services, such as Exchange Online and SharePoint online.
I hope that helps answer the question – Is Microsoft Office 365 online only? If you still have questions, please shoot us a message, and we’d love to help.