How to always open files in desktop apps with Microsoft 365


Learn how to use a Microsoft 365 setting that lets you determine whether to work in an online or desktop environment for each file.

microsoft-365-tutorial-autosave-may-2022
Image: IB Photography/Adobe Stock

By default, Microsoft 365 saves a file in the environment you used to open it and opens the file in the environment you last saved it. 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 when working from your online Office account or Edge’s new Office 365 dashboard, you can force the issue with a simple setting.

SEE: Windows, Linux, and Mac commands everyone needs to know (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to determine which environment you’re in at any given time. Then, I’ll present a quick way to force Office 365 to always open a file in the desktop environment, regardless of where you open it or save it.

I’m using Office 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system. I’m using Word, but this behavior also applies to Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint.

How to determine which environment you’re in with Microsoft 365

If you open a file while working online, you might find it difficult to tell whether you’re working online or in a desktop app; fortunately, it’s quite easy to discover which environment is active. To do so, click the File tab and then click Info. The document shown in Figure A is open in Word for the web. If you click Open in Desktop App, Word will switch to the desktop version.

Figure A

This file is open in Word for the web.
This file is open in Word for the web.

How to manually choose an environment in Microsoft 365

The online apps are convenient. You can open a file quickly, make changes and save those changes in SharePoint or OneDrive automatically. Despite the convenience, if you need to use the desktop app, you can choose that environment from the online environment as follows.

  1. Sign into your Office account as you normally would.
  2. Select the file you want to open in Word, but don’t double-click it to open it.
  3. With the file selected, choose one of the options shown in the Open dropdown (Figure B).

Figure B

Choose the environment when you’re working online with your Office account.
Choose the environment when you’re working online with your Office account.

You must be working with a system that has Microsoft 365 installed to choose that option. Use this option when you’re unsure of the file’s default environment setting.

How to set an environment in Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 apps for the web are incredibly convenient, despite their limited functionality. Those limitations are the reason 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 are now working 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 that the web app doesn’t support. It’s not a huge deal, but it is frustrating and totally unnecessary.

When you know you want to use a desktop app when working most of the time, you can force the issue with a simple setting. If you open the file online, Microsoft 365 will open it in the desktop by default, so you can skip the manual process without worry.

To set this default setting, follow these steps.

  1. Open the file in Word desktop.
  2. Click the File menu.
  3. Choose Options from the left pane.
  4. Choose Advanced from the left pane.
  5. Scroll down to the Link Handling section.
  6. Check the Open Supported Hyperlinks to Office Files in Office Desktop Apps option (Figure C).
  7. Click OK to return to the Word document.

Figure C

Enable this setting, so Microsoft 365 always opens the file in Word for the web.
Enable this setting, so Microsoft 365 always opens the file in Word for the web.

Regardless of where you created or saved the file, once you enable this setting, Word will always open the file in the desktop environment if available.

To the best of my knowledge, Microsoft 365 doesn’t offer a setting for always defaulting to Word for the web; however, if you create the file online and never save it to the desktop app, Microsoft 365 will always open the file in Word for the web.
If you can’t make this setting stick, talk to your administrator. If the feature is available to your organization, an administrator can make it available to you.

This is a simple change, but sometimes it’s the little things that frustrate us the most when we’re busy. If you know that you want to use Word desktop most of the time, enable this setting and avoid a bit of unexpected frustration when working online.



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