Microsoft Project Online: Pros, Cons and Best Alternatives


If you’ve worked with Microsoft Project before, then you are familiar with its powerful project planning capabilities but also its many, well… frustrations. For one thing, it’s hard to share MPP files, which are too large for email and only viewable if you have MS Project. Also, MS project is quite expensive and usually requires other Microsoft products such as Project Server and/or Sharepoint, which require license renewals, and generate recurring costs.

What you need is to be able to use the project management features of Microsoft Project online, without all its frustrations. In this article, we’ll show you MS project online alternatives that allow you how to do that.

What Is Microsoft Project Online?

Microsoft Project Online is a cloud-based project portfolio management (PPM) software built on the Microsoft Sharepoint platform. MS Project Online was designed as an alternative for users who are looking for the project management features of desktop-based Microsoft Project, but need to collaborate online with their teams. It’s also a lighter and more user-friendly software than the on-premise version of Microsoft Project.

How to Use Microsoft Project Online & Different Versions of Project Online

To use MS Project Online, you’ll need a Microsoft Project Plan 3 or Project Plan 5 subscription. It’s important to note that Project Online is not the same as other Microsoft products such as Microsoft Project Professional, Project Server, Project for the web, or the Project online desktop client. Here are the 3 versions of Microsoft Project Online.

  • Project Online: This is the fully-featured version of Microsoft Project Online
  • Project Online Essentials: This is a lightweight version of Project Online with only a few features that comes at a lower price
  • Project Online Desktop Client: An on-premises project management option that has the same features as MS Project Online

MS Project Online Benefits & Features

MS Project Online doesn’t have the same features as the traditional, desktop version of Microsoft Project that you might be familiar with. With a subscription to Project Online, you’ll get access to project planning features like Gantt charts and critical path identification, as well as task management features like kanban boards and collaboration tools for scheduling and task updates.

You’ll also get resource management features for resource costing and capacity planning, as well as time tracking via timesheets for monitoring project timelines and schedule baselines. Finally, Microsoft Project Online also has portfolio management features for portfolio analysis and prioritization, as well as roadmaps and project budgeting.

Cons of Microsoft Project Online

The online project management tool is very powerful and is a great option for teams already set up within a Microsoft project ecosystem, such as Microsoft Teams, MS Project Server, Microsoft Planner and Sharepoint. For these teams, adding a minor cost for online additions of their desktop project management tools is a great way to get their Microsoft Project plans online. However, MS Project Online has major drawbacks for everybody else.

  • You need to purchase a lot of add-ons and licenses separately to use all MS Project Online features. For example you’ll need Power BI, Microsoft Teams, Power Apps, Azure Boards, among others.
  • You also need Sharepoint integrations, which is the sharing portal for Microsoft files of all kinds because the file sizes are so large.
  • Microsoft Project Online pricing structure is complicated. Even with three tiers of pricing plans, the licensing fees add up if you want your whole team to get onboard.
  • Your team members will need a MS Project Online Essentials or a Project Plan 1 subscription to perform a few basic Microsoft Project Online Essentials functions like submitting timesheets and updating tasks.

MS Project Online Pricing

To use the full version of Microsoft Project Online, you’ll need to pay $55 per user per month, which is quite expensive relative to other project management software. MS Project Online pricing can be confusing and hard to explain. That’s because Microsoft Project is no longer a single software, but a set of project management tools. On top of that MS Project offers three subscription plans, which complicate things even more. To use MS Project Online, you’ll need a Microsoft Project Plan 3 or Project Plan 5 subscription. Here are the plans you can acquire to use Microsoft Project Online:

  • Project Plan 1 ($10 per user per month): This plan doesn’t include the full version of MS Project Online, but you’ll get Project Online Essentials, which is a lighter version with limited features.
  • Project Plan 3 ($30 per user per month): Formerly known as the Project Online Professional plan, it Includes Project for the web, Microsoft Project Online, Project Online Desktop Client.
  • Project Plan 5 ($55 per user per month): Includes the same Microsoft Project products as Project Plan 3, with extra features.

Best Microsoft Project Online Alternatives

The desktop version of Microsoft Project has long been the standard for project managers, so much so that many are incredulous that there are viable MS project online alternatives. Yes, there really are affordable project management software alternatives with all the power of MS Project and without all the frustrations.

1. ProjectManager

ProjectManager is a cloud-based project management software that has the project planning power of the MS Project Gantt chart, but it’s faster and easier to use. ProjectManager is completely compatible with Microsoft Project for teams who have Project Server and Sharepoint, but need to be able to share their plans online. There’s a significant cost savings, as well, as you don’t need desktop versions of the software. But most importantly, ProjectManager offers seamless import & export of MS Project and Excel files, with no data loss.

And, because it’s always online, it has team collaboration features and the ability to share plans with anyone. You can rely on ProjectManager for all your project, program and project portfolio management (PPM) needs, and find why it is a great MS Project Online alternative.  Ready to try it for yourself? Get started for free, and import your MPP files today for a better, online project management experience.

Image showing MS project and ProjectManager Gantt charts. ProjectManager is a MS project online alternative

2. Microsoft Project Online Viewer

If you don’t want to purchase MS Project Online, you can simply use a Microsoft Project Viewer, which is a project management tool that allows those project managers who don’t have an Office 365 account and a contract with MS Project Online to still open and view MPP files online.

The problem with a view-only project management tool is that while it allows you to open MPP files, there is little you can do with them other than see the plan.

How to Import MS Project Files into ProjectManager

Start by setting up a 30-day free account with us. You’ll see that we have multiple project management views, such as kanban boards, task lists and a calendar view. Choose the online Gantt chart and follow this walkthrough. It’s that simple.

1. Import MPP File

Click the import button on the top right-hand side of the Gantt chart page. This will let you get your Microsoft Project file online, so you can share it with others.

Import an MPP file to manage MS Project files online with ProjectManager

2. Select MPP File

Choose the select file button on the popup window. Once you’ve picked the MS project file you want to import, just hit next.

3. Make Import Options

Pick what options you want before importing the file. The popup menu offers you such choices as to create a new project or add to an existing one, keep or replace the existing data, etc.

4. Import Everything or Just Task List?

Use the final popup window to determine if you want to get all the data from the MPP file or just the task list.

choose how you want to import your MPP file data to work on MS Project Plans online


5. Finish Up & See Your Microsoft Project Plan Online

Get a notice that says, “Success!” and you’ve completed the import process. Yes, it’s that easy and quick. Close that alert and you’re ready to edit your file within our tool. You’ll be presented with your final product in the Gantt chart form. Congrats, you’ve moved your Microsoft Project file into an online interface.

Manage Microsoft Project Files Online with ProjectManager. Our Gantt is Online & Collaborative

ProjectManager gives you the power to not only view your MPP files online, but also manage them online, and export them back to MPP format with complete data integrity. This MS project online alternative lets you share your plans with team members and clients online freely and securely, while still using Microsoft Project.

Related: Best Microsoft Project Alternatives

More Microsoft Project Online Alternatives

While ProjectManager is the best MS Project Online alternative, there are other options you can try if you want to stay in the Microsoft ecosystem. Here are three options you can choose from if it has to be Microsoft.

1. Microsoft Project Desktop Version

Project Online and the desktop versions of Microsoft Project offer the same features if you choose an equivalent plan. Because of the multiple versions of Microsoft Project, you’ll need to carefully compare what you get with its cloud-based and on-premises solutions.

Only the Project Online Desktop Client version of Project Online available with Microsoft Project Plan 5 has the same features as the Microsoft Project on-premises solutions you can get with the Project Standard 2021 or Project Professional 2021 licenses.

2. Project for the Web

Project for the web is very similar to Microsoft Project Online. It offers basic task management tools such as Gantt charts, grid views and roadmaps to help you manage your project’s work. The main difference between Microsoft Project Online and Project for the Web, is that Project Online has more advanced project management features such as project baselines, critical path analysis and project portfolio management tools, while Project for the Web is a much more basic tool designed to be easy to use.

Another important difference is that Project Online is built on the Microsoft SharePoint platform, while Project for the Web is built on the Microsoft Project platform.

3. Project Server

Project Server is the specialized on-premises project portfolio management software from Microsoft. It’s got enterprise project management tools that will help you better select and prioritize projects, track resources across your portfolio and monitor project performance.

It’s a good alternative for organizations that need a solution to better track their project portfolio and make PPM resource management decisions based on data.

MS Project Online FAQ

Clearly, Microsoft has a wide array of products and a complicated price structure that can be confusing for many project managers. Here are some of the most common questions that project managers have about MS Project Online.

Is MS Project Online the Same as Microsoft Project?

Microsoft Project Online was designed as a separate service and doesn’t have the same features as the desktop-based Microsoft Project Professional. The online solutions, MS Project Online and Project for the web, lack some functions that Project Professional has.

Is Microsoft Project Online Free?

Microsoft Project Online is not free. You’ll need to pay an annual commitment of $55 per user/month along with several other separate subscriptions for Microsoft products to have a fully functional MS Project Online.

Is Microsoft Project Online Included in Office 365?

Microsoft Office 365 doesn’t include any online or desktop version of MS Project. You’ll need to pay for a subscription to use Microsoft Project Online.

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ProjectManager is an award-winning project management tool that organizes teams and projects. Our cloud-based software has all the features of MS Project Online, without the expense and unnecessary complexities. See how we can make your teams work more productively with our one-stop PM tool. Get started for free with our 30-day trial today.