The Difference Between Office 365 and SharePoint Online

By Nicholas Heembrock on July 15, 2021

If you’re unfamiliar with the world of Enterprise Content Management (ECM), SharePoint, or document management, you may sometimes hear Microsoft’s “SharePoint Online” and “Office 365” used interchangeably.

It’s a common misunderstanding that SharePoint Online and Office 365 are one and the same. Office 365 and SharePoint Online are in fact part of the same solution family and do share some capabilities. But what are the differences between Office 365 and SharePoint Online?

Office 365 explained

According to Microsoft, Office 365 refers to subscription plans that include Microsoft Office’s productivity applications plus services that are enabled over the Internet (in other words, cloud services).

In addition to productivity applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Office 365 plans offer email services, internal communication platforms like Microsoft Teams, infrastructure for audio, video, and web conferencing, as well as the ability to share and store internal files in the cloud.

How SharePoint Online fits in

SharePoint Online is a collaborative platform that seamlessly integrates with Office 365. SharePoint has been the dominant document management and file storage solution for organizations worldwide for nearly two decades. SharePoint Online is the cloud version. It allows an enterprise to store, retrieve, search, archive, track, manage, and report on digitized documents and other content.

While SharePoint Online is a component of the cloud-based Office 365, it is available as a standalone product. (SharePoint’s on-premises platform still offers a few capabilities not found in the online version.)

SharePoint Online and Office 365 both offer the ability to store documents. The best fit depends upon your needs and the type of content you are working with.

Office 365 is best when:

  • File-based storage is needed for ease of use. (In this case, you can use Office 365’s OneDrive)
  • Collaborations are uncomplicated and don’t involve a lot of content. (In this case, you can use Microsoft Teams)
  • Personal file management is needed across devices. (OneDrive is your best bet here)
  • Larger files need to be readily emailed. (Again, OneDrive is the stronger option)

SharePoint Online is your best bet when:

  • Collaboration is complex and in need of tight security and maintenance.
  • The volume of content requires robust search capabilities, which requires metadata
  • Custom views are needed as is metadata.
  • Data types have to be configurable.
  • Content management requires a custom workflow.
  • Complex security requirements are needed for certain types of content.

Jason Burian, who leads product for KnowledgeLake, has this take:

“Office 365, SharePoint Online and Microsoft Teams are all part of the Microsoft 365 family. Everyone works in their Office 365 productivity applications all day long. Microsoft Teams is where everyone communicates. It provides a single collaboration point for content from all of these applications. SharePoint seamlessly plugs into Teams and Office 365 productivity applications as the main file repository.”

Have questions about the best way to use Office 365, SharePoint Online and Microsoft Teams in your organization? Download KnowledgeLake's Essential Guide for Implementing Document Management in the Cloud.

Nicholas is the Senior Product Manager at KnowledgeLake.

About KnowledgeLake:

KnowledgeLake provides content management solutions that help busy organizations intelligently automate their most important document processes. Since 1999, we've created award-winning, Microsoft-centric solutions that have helped thousands of companies around the world focus on their mission rather than their mission-critical documents.


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