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Choosing between Microsoft Office 2016 versions

Choosing between Office 2016 versions may seem like a simple choice, but don't jump to conclusions: Consider functionality, operational consistency and cost.

Organizations that deployed Windows 10 and are considering Microsoft Office 2016 must decide whether it's better to use the desktop version or the mobile one. When making this choice, there are three major factors to consider: functionality, operational consistency and cost.

In the past, an organization might choose between a standard edition of Office and a professional one, but the core products remained largely consistent between those versions. Office 2016 adds another variable, however. On top of the assorted editions, shops can choose the mobile or desktop version of the productivity suite, or both.

Desktop administrators might think picking between the desktop and mobile Office 2016 versions is a no-brainer: If workers use desktops, they need the desktop version, right? Not so fast -- most Windows 10 devices can run either. There are differences between the mobile and desktop versions, but if employees work from a mix of desktops and mobile devices, it might not make sense to deliver two versions when one will do.

Knowing the differences between the desktop and mobile versions of Microsoft Office can help ease that decision.

How does the functionality of Office 2016 versions differ?

Microsoft had no choice but to produce a compelling version of Office Mobile users could work with.

Until somewhat recently, most workers used Office on desktop and laptop computers. Office could run on mobile devices, but the user experience was somewhat lacking -- except on Surface tablets.

Figure A shows the version of Microsoft Word Mobile included with Windows Phone 8.1; it looks more like Notepad. The buttons at the bottom of the screen provide access to very basic formatting tools and to document comments, but this version of Word Mobile is almost unrecognizable compared to the desktop version.

Word Mobile on Windows Phone 8.1

When Microsoft created this version of Word Mobile, the ability to open and edit Office documents on a smartphone was a bonus, not a requirement. Today of course, users tend to work from a variety of devices, including tablets and phones; not just PCs. Microsoft had to produce a compelling version of Office Mobile that offered a good user experience.

Even so, creating a mobile version of Office identical to the desktop version wasn't an option either. Device capacity and screen size issues make such an app impractical. Microsoft had to strike a balance between features and practicality. The end result could be described as Office lite. The mobile version of Office contains fewer features than the desktop version, but it's touch optimized and specifically designed to meet mobile users' unique needs.

Word Mobile 2016

Word Mobile (above) has a much simpler and cleaner layout than the desktop version (below), but it's not nearly as feature rich. Microsoft included many of the features users work with most often, but some commonly used features don't exist in Word Mobile. For example, Word Mobile does not display a document's page and word count at the bottom of the screen like the desktop version does.

Desktop version of Word 2016


Some organizations have found that because users work from so many different device types, deploying Office 2016 Mobile on all devices is best. It offers a better and more consistent experience than running the desktop version of Office 2016 on some devices, and the mobile version on others.


Some people recommend using Office 2016 Mobile on Windows devices because the software is free. Although the Office Mobile apps are technically free, there are caveats. For desktops, laptops and large tablets, the Office 2016 apps are really just document viewers unless the user has an Office 365 subscription.

Clearly the desktop and mobile Office 2016 versions have major differences. The desktop version provides a greater degree of functionality than the mobile version, but consumes more system resources and is not optimized for touch screen device use.

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