Learn how to use a Microsoft 365 setting that lets you determine whether you want to work in an online or desktop environment for each file.
By default, Microsoft 365 saves a file in the environment you opened it in and opens the file in the environment you last saved it in. It doesn’t take much switching back and forth to find yourself in Word for the web when you thought you were working in the desktop app. If you prefer to work with desktop apps, even if you’re working from your online Office account or Edge’s new Office 365 dashboard, you can force the issue with a simple setting.
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In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to determine what environment you’re in right now. Then I’ll present a quick way to force Office 365 to always open a file in the desktop environment, no matter where you open or save it.
I am using Office 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system. I use Word, but this behavior applies to Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint as well.
How to determine what environment you’re in with Microsoft 365
When you open a file while working online, it can be difficult to tell if you’re working online or in a desktop app. Luckily, finding out which environment is active is fairly easy. To do this, click the File tab and then click About. The document shown in Figure A is open in Word for the web. When you click Open in Desktop App, Word switches to the desktop version.
How to manually select an environment in Microsoft 365
The online apps are handy. You can quickly open a file, make changes, and automatically save those changes to SharePoint or OneDrive. If you need to use the desktop app despite the convenience, you can select this environment from the online environment as follows.
- Sign in to your Office account as usual.
- Select the file you want to open in Word, but don’t double-click to open it.
- With the file selected, choose one of the options from the Open drop-down list (Figure B).
You must be on a system with Microsoft 365 installed to select this option. Use this option if you are unsure of the file’s default environment setting.
How to set an environment in Microsoft 365
Microsoft 365 Apps for the web is incredibly useful despite its limited functionality. These limitations are the reason why most users prefer to work in the full-featured desktop environment. Thanks to the easy-to-use Office Online and Microsoft 365 dashboard in Edge, many of us now work in one of those environments. That means it’s easy to open a file in the web app and not even know it until you try to do something the web app doesn’t support. It’s not a big deal, but it’s frustrating and totally unnecessary.
If you know you want to use a desktop app most of the time at work, you can force the issue with a simple setting. When you open the file online, Microsoft 365 opens it on the desktop by default, so you can safely skip the manual process.
Follow these steps to set this default.
- Open the file on the Word desktop.
- Click the File menu.
- Choose options in the left pane.
- In the left pane, select Advanced.
- Scroll down to the Link Handling section.
- Enable the Open supported hyperlinks to Office files in Office desktop apps option (Figure C).
- Click OK to return to the Word document.
Regardless of where you created or saved the file, after you enable this setting, Word always opens the file in the desktop environment, if available.
To the best of my knowledge, Microsoft 365 doesn’t offer a setting to always use Word for the web by default; However, if you create the file online and never save it in the desktop app, Microsoft 365 will always open the file in Word Online.
If you cannot keep this setting, contact your administrator. If the feature is available for your organization, an admin can make it available to you.
This is an easy change, but sometimes it’s the little things that frustrate us the most when we’re busy. If you know you plan to use the Word desktop most of the time, turn this setting on and avoid a little unexpected frustration while working online.