Outlook vs. Outlook.com vs. Outlook on the Web (OWA)

Call me old but I can't seem to keep up anymore with what exactly is meant with Outlook, Outlook.com, Office, Office 365, Microsoft 365 and logging on with Outlook.com or Microsoft Accounts to Windows and Office.

What is what exactly and what do I use it for when?

Outlook buttonYes, this can become more than a little confusing for anybody sometimes; age doesn’t have much to do with it.

Although the similar naming makes a lot of sense for marketing purposes, for troubleshooting and looking up information it is quite a pain to find out if it indeed applies to you.

The Outlook brand

What? buttonBasically, the "Outlook" brand stands for everything that focuses on email.

  • Outlook is the mail client application of the Microsoft Office suite.
  • Outlook.com is a free web based mail account (which used to be Hotmail).
  • Outlook on the Web App (aka OWA) is the web based mail client (interface) that is part of Microsoft Exchange Server, Outlook.com, and subscribers of Microsoft 365 for Business/Enterprise/Education and Exchange Online.

Then there are still some other mail clients within the Outlook brand:

Microsoft 365 for Home vs. Microsoft 365 for Business/Enterprise vs. Office 2019

Microsoft 365 buttonThe Office and Microsoft 365 brand generates quite some additional confusion as well as it can refer to the actual application, a subscription based license for use of the application or a subscription based service for hosted solutions of Microsoft Server products.

  • Office 2019 is currently the latest version of the Microsoft Office suite which you can purchase and install on your computer. There are several suites available.
    • Office Home & Student 2019
      This is the cheapest suite but doesn't include Outlook.
    • Office Home & Business 2019
      Contains Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
    • Office Standard 2019 and Office Professional Plus 2019
      Also include Outlook but are only available via Volume Licensing.
  • Microsoft 365 for Business/Enterprise is a subscription based service which provides you with access to hosted solutions of Microsoft Server products which include Exchange (Online) and SharePoint. You can subscribe to these individually or as a package deal. This package deal can also include a license for a continuously developed version of Office (referred to as Microsoft 365 Apps) which you can install on your computer.
  • Microsoft 365 for Home applies to the subscription based version of the continuously developed version of Office. It basically is a “hired license” and can be used on Windows and on a Mac. It doesn't come with an Exchange Online account though but you can configure it with an Outlook.com account or any other POP3, IMAP or Exchange account.
    The subscription also contains additional benefits such as 50GB of Outlook.com mailbox storage, the ability to use Outlook.com with your own domain, 1TB of OneDrive storage, 60 minutes of Skype calling per month, and more.

Logging on with an Outlook.com or Microsoft Account

Microsoft Account buttonIn both Windows and Office, you can log on with a Microsoft Account as well. This allows you to use it in combination with cloud based services from Microsoft such as OneDrive. It then also stores several settings in the cloud so that these travel with you when you log on to another computer.

All Outlook.com accounts are automatically also Microsoft Accounts but you can turn any other email address into an Microsoft Account as well via: https://signup.live.com.

Signing up won't turn that email address automatically into an Outlook.com account and you can still use that address as you always did. However, if you want to, you do have the option to use it with Outlook.com as well.

So, you can logon to Windows with an Outlook.com account and logon to Office with an Outlook.com account but this doesn't necessarily mean that you need to configure this account in Outlook itself as too. You can use Outlook with any other account that you own as well.

Similarly, you can use your own email address to sign up for a Microsoft Account with which you then can log on to Windows and Office and use that address within Outlook as you always did or with any other account.

To check your currently configured mail accounts in Outlook use:

  • File-> Account Settings-> Account Settings…-> tab E-mail