Free PowerPoint Online vs. PowerPoint 2016: Which Do You Need

PowerPoint is one of the most popular presentation software programs available today. With Microsoft offering both a free online version (PowerPoint Online) and paid desktop apps (like PowerPoint 2016), many wonder which version they actually need. This article will compare PowerPoint Online and PowerPoint 2016 to help you decide which is best for your needs.

PowerPoint Online Overview

PowerPoint Online is the free web-based version of PowerPoint that runs in your browser. It offers the core PowerPoint functionality for creating and editing basic presentations.

Key features of PowerPoint Online:

  • Completely free to use for anyone with a Microsoft account
  • Access presentations from anywhere via web browser
  • Real-time co-authoring – collaborate on presentations with others
  • Basic editing capabilities (text, images, shapes, slides)
  • Limited selection of templates and design options
  • Can present slideshows online for others to view remotely
  • File compatibility with PowerPoint 2016 and other desktop apps

As PowerPoint Online runs in the browser, it has some limitations compared to the desktop apps. But it’s ideal for light users who just need basic presentation creation and editing tools.

PowerPoint 2016 Overview

PowerPoint 2016 is the paid desktop application that offers the full PowerPoint experience, including advanced features and customization options.

Key features of PowerPoint 2016:

  • Broader selection of templates, themes, fonts, effects
  • Animation capabilities
  • Advanced slide transitions
  • Presenter view and tools
  • Ability to insert videos, audio, charts
  • Review and proofing tools
  • File compatibility with older PowerPoint versions
  • Can be used offline

As the full desktop app, PowerPoint 2016 is better suited for heavy PowerPoint users, business professionals, and those with advanced presentation needs.

Feature Comparison

Here is a high-level look at how some of the main features compare between PowerPoint Online and the PowerPoint 2016 desktop app:

FeaturePowerPoint OnlinePowerPoint 2016
CostFree$149 one-time or $70/year with Office 365 license
TemplatesLimited selectionMany more templates and customization options
AnimationsBasicAdvanced animation capabilities
Insert MediaImages onlyImages, video, audio charts
Slide TransitionsNoneMany transition effects
Design ToolsBasic formattingAdvanced effects, themes, customization
Presenter ToolsOnline presenting onlyPresenter view, rehearse timings, recording tools
File CompatibilityPPTX supportBackward compatibility with older formats
UsageVia web browserDesktop app, used offline

As shown above, PowerPoint 2016 leads in capabilities – but comes at a cost. PowerPoint Online offers a surprising amount of functionality for free.

When to Use Each Version

With the key differences covered, here is guidance on when to use PowerPoint Online vs PowerPoint 2016:

Use PowerPoint Online When:

  • You need to collaborate with others on presentations
  • You want easy online access from any device
  • Your presentation needs are basic
  • You don’t need advanced features and customization
  • You want a free solution

Use the PowerPoint 2016 Desktop App When:

  • You have advanced presentation needs
  • Offline access is required
  • You need access to all templates, tools and features
  • Compatibility with older PowerPoint versions is needed
  • You want greater creative control and customization

For most basic users, PowerPoint Online has all the features needed to create and share presentations. But advanced users and professionals may still require the full capabilities of the PowerPoint 2016 desktop application.

When in doubt, try starting in PowerPoint Online to see if it meets your needs. You can always upgrade to the paid desktop apps later if the free web-based version falls short.


PowerPoint Online and PowerPoint 2016 offer similar core functionality, but key differences in capabilities, features and use cases.

PowerPoint Online is the free web-based option suited for basic needs, while PowerPoint 2016 provides full customization and control. Evaluate your specific requirements, budget and use cases to decide which version of PowerPoint is right for you.

Try out both versions to experience the differences first-hand. PowerPoint Online is completely free to start using today.