Outlook on the Web vs. Outlook: Pros and cons for each

Email is a daily part of everyone’s lives. We need it to carry out almost endless personal tasks or, in business, use it for customer statements and other client communications. If you are an IT pro, you will typically receive a flood of email containing tickets and complaints from end-users about things not working, along with continuous notifications about your systems and other business-related announcements. How do you work on your email each day? If you are using Exchange on-premises, you will either be using Microsoft Outlook or Outlook on the Web, which is web-based. Each person has their preference, and we will look at both along with some of the pros and cons of each.


Microsoft Outlook

Outlook has come a long way, and each version of Exchange allows you to use a certain set of versions. Here is the complete list:

  • Outlook 2002
  • Outlook 2003
  • Outlook 2007
  • Outlook 2010
  • Outlook 2013
  • Outlook 2016
  • Outlook 2019
  • Outlook for Mac (multiple versions)

If you are running Exchange 2016 or above, you will most likely have clients on Outlook 2010 and above. Outlook forms part of the Microsoft Office application suite. An application is installed on your machine, allowing you to either set up multiple profiles or have multiple mailboxes open at once. If you have shared mailboxes, then you will see them in Outlook as well. The Outlook application does not sign out like the web version, which we will get to next. You also can open old archives as one of the main features, meaning any PST file you have will be opened each time you launch Outlook.

The Outlook app is network-sensitive. If you have a drop in connectivity, Outlook will show it is disconnected and flash errors. The same will happen if the backend server goes down and Outlook cannot reconnect. Many end-users use Outlook; it is the standard for many companies. The versions will differ as each one has a different cost associated with it.

Outlook can be set up using MAPI (exchange version dependent), RPC, IMAP, or POP. Each Outlook version will support a certain set of protocols. You cannot connect Outlook 2003 to an Exchange 2019 server, for example.

Outlook allows you to set up other accounts such as Gmail or Outlook.com accounts, while Outlook on the Web does not because Gmail and Outlook.com have their own web interfaces.

Outlook can be connected in cache mode or online mode, depending on the requirements of the business. Take note that online mode puts a bit more pressure on your Exchange Server.

Outlook on the Web

If we look at Outlook on Web, also known as OWA, you have similar functionality to Outlook. This includes creating emails, meetings, tasks, contacts, notes, and folders. It works with most browsers, which means you are not accessing an application. Instead, you are using a web page defined by your IT admins, such as mail.domain.com/owa. In Outlook, we can view PST files, but in Outlook on the Web, you cannot.

Outlook on the Web does timeout if this feature is set up by your IT department. If you prefer using this, you may end up logging in multiple times each day as the webpage will take you back to log in if it is idle for too long. I have seen it happen where people have drafted these long emails, and for some reason, it did not save, and Outlook on the Web timed out, and they lost hours of work.

When it comes to customization, you can apply themes to both Outlook and Outlook on the Web. If black is your preferred color, you can choose dark mode in Outlook, and this should tie in to Windows 10 if you have a dark mode setup system-wide. Chrome does have a black theme. You can apply it to web pages, but it does not always look so nice.

Outlook on the Web works only with updated versions of browsers such as Chrome, Edge, and Firefox. Microsoft has a list of the system requirements for the browsers and operating systems that are supported.

Here is a snippet of what Microsoft Outlook looks like vs. Outlook on the Web:

Microsoft Outlook:

Microsoft Outlook looks like vs. Outlook on the Web

Outlook on the Web:

Microsoft Outlook looks like vs. Outlook on the Web

In Microsoft Outlook, your options for the Calendar, people, and tasks are located at the bottom of Outlook:

You can see how clean the icons look and it is easy to access. In Outlook on the Web, you have to click the icon in the top left-hand corner to be able to view your options as shown below:

As you can see, both have the same options, except Microsoft Outlook does have notes, folders, and extra shortcuts. The same with the above also applies to Microsoft 365 if you use the web portal or Outlook to access your email.

Yes, you can use both

I use both because I find it easier to work with multiple accounts using both Microsoft Outlook and Outlook on the Web. I have seen customers that prefer one or the other, but maybe you like both or only use Microsoft Outlook because OWA is blocked externally.

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