Microsoft Project : A Comprehensive Guide to Versions and Plans

Person working in office on Microsoft
Source : Microsoft


Microsoft Project is project management software that’s developed and sold by Microsoft. It is used to create schedules, project plans, manage resources and keep track of time. It has features such as Gantt charts, Kanban boards and project calendars. It can be used to establish dependencies among tasks, create constraints, resolve resource conflicts, and it can also help in analyzing cost and schedule performance over the duration of the project. These components, when properly implemented, can be an incredibly influential tool for project managers and project support analysist. If you are looking to improve your forecasting, cost and schedule performance and management reporting MPUG can provide targeted, thorough instruction taught by credentialed, experienced leaders. Gain insight and PMI PDUs while strengthening your professional skills by harnessing the power of MS Project.

The first commercial edition of MS Project was released for DOS in 1984 and has come a long way since, with numerous editions, features, and cloud adaptations. As a result, it remains a popular Project Management tool for Project Management Professionals worldwide. 

With developments in Project Management methodologies and principles(like the agile methodologies), advances in Cloud infrastructure and the remote working phenomenon, Microsoft has continued to roll out different versions of its popular Project Management Tool to accommodate these demands. This resulted in an evolution of the original Microsoft Project for Desktop into what Microsoft classifies as 3 different Project Management Applications :

  • Microsoft Project Desktop
  • Microsoft Project Online
  • Microsoft Project for the Web

To fully understand the different Microsoft Project Applications, we need to understand the evolution of MS Project. With the evolution of software development towards Agile development, improvements in cloud infrastructure, and improvements in wireless capabilities, the need for Cloud Native applications became overwhelming. What started as a Desktop application has over the years evolved into 3 different Applications focused on meeting consumer needs for different project management approaches, functionality requirements, and client-specific pricing structures. 

Microsoft Project (Desktop Solution)

This is effectively what we know today as Microsoft Project or sometimes referred to as Microsoft Project Desktop. It’s easier to see all the additional Microsoft Project versions as extensions of the OG MS Project Software. Because Desktop Applications for many years were developed using the Waterfall approach, updates required packaging of updates in completely new Applications, called versions. 

Over the years Microsoft developed and released numerous version updates including the following. 

  • Microsoft Project 2002
  • Microsoft Project 2003
  • Microsoft Project 2007
  • Microsoft Project 2010
  • Microsoft Project 2013
  • Microsoft Project 2016
  • Microsoft Project 2018
  • Microsoft Project 2019
  • Microsoft Project 2021
Microsoft Project Online Desktop Client
Microsoft Project Online Desktop Client . Source : Microsoft

The Desktop version of Microsoft Project is purchased with a perpetual license, which means the license is valid forever. Microsoft offers clients 3 different pricing modules when purchasing the Desktop version of Microsoft Project, which included the Microsoft Project Standard Edition, which would follow the naming convention of Microsoft Project Standard 2021 (2021 obviously being the year of the version release), Microsoft Project Professional, and Microsoft Project Enterprise. This license however would not be transferable to the next version released by Microsoft and users had to purchase a completely new license or void access to newer features. This version was solely designed for use on the client’s computer and is often referred to as the desktop client. 

Microsoft Project Standard 2021

You can purchase and download the Standard Version of Microsoft Project Desktop for $679 on any compatible computer. This license is valid for 1 user on 1 PC. In order to download this Application, you need to ensure your PC meets the minimum requirements for this version. Microsoft Project is not compatible with Mac out of the box, but other solutions do exist. 

The standard version of Microsoft Project Desktop is perfect for small companies that don’t need to utilize collaboration tools or other advanced features. The standard version offers the basic tools to manage tasks, view reports, and business intelligence. Connection to Microsoft Project Online and Project for the Web (more on this later). Some features include

  • Pre-built templates get your project started on the right track
  • Familiar automated scheduling helps to reduce inefficiencies and training time
  • Run what-if scenarios to make the most of your task assignments
  • Auto-populate start and end dates based on dependencies
  • Visually represent complex schedules with built-in multiple timelines
Microsoft Project 2021 Features
Microsoft Project 2021 Features .Source : Microsoft


Microsoft Project Professional 2021

You can buy and download the Pro Version of Microsoft Project for a desktop for only $1 1299. This is a license also for 1 user on 1 PC. The requirements for the Pro Version differ from the Stand MS Project version. The Pro version is also not compatible with Mac out of the box.

MS Project Pro offers comprehensive scheduling, resource management, advanced reporting, and powerful collaboration tools. Another differentiating feature is the ability to connect to MS Project Online and Microsoft Project Server. Some features include :

  • Pre-built templates help you get your project started on the right track
  • Sync with Project Online and Project Server
  • Submit timesheets to capture time spent on project and non-project work
  • Run what-if scenarios to make the most of your task assignments
  • Auto-populate start and end dates based on dependencies
  • Visually represent complex schedules with built-in multiple timelines
  • Licensed for 1 PC
  • Supports Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) and is compatible with Office LTSC and Office 2021

Microsoft Project Server 2021

Project Server is a more advanced offering that offers organizations management of different projects and portfolios across an organization. Project admins can manage access to projects within an organization and security from a central Project Workspace. In addition to MS Project Professional functions, Project Server supports advanced portfolio, resource, collaboration, demand, governance, integration, and work management.

Learn How to Use Microsoft Project Today

Learn Microsoft Project


Microsoft Project Online (Cloud Solution)

With the evolution from traditional waterfall software development to a more agile approach of utilizing microservices, a concept of utilizing the cloud to develop scalable applications, together with the migration towards remote working and globalization of companies and projects, Microsoft began transitioning from the traditional Microsoft Project to a Cloud Based App. This meant consumers could now have access to the latest features instantly, instead of having to wait for years before having to purchase the new release. 

Cloud Based Microsoft Project, or Microsoft Project Online was also introduced with a new payment structure. Where Microsoft Project Desktop was purchased with a perpetual license, the cloud version was introduced with a monthly subscription. Like the Desktop version, the cloud version was offered with different capabilities to suit the different requirements of different projects or project managers. These included :

  • Microsoft Project Essentials (add-on)
  • Microsoft Project for the Web
  • Microsoft Project Online
  • Microsoft Project Desktop Client

Microsoft Project Essentials

MS Project Essentials is an additional add-on subscription that allows team members who don’t require the same advanced functionality, access to Project Online. This subscription can not be used as a standalone service. Project Essentials is available to Subscribers on Project Plans 3 and 5. A Project Essentials subscription allows team members to do the following in Microsoft Project Online :

  • Use a web-based interface
  • Update tasks, issues, and risks
  • Submit timesheets
  • Share documents and collaborate with Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business users

Microsoft Project for the Web

Project for the web was designed for “Accidental Project Manager”, providing the basic project management tools needed to manage small and simple projects. Unlike Microsoft Project Online which is accessible from both the Desktop Online Client and the browser, this tool is entirely web-based. So consider it Microsoft Project “Only” for the web. This offering can be used as a stand-alone service. This offering does not include most of the powerful features found in MS Project Online or Microsoft Project Professional 2021. Some features include :

  • Project, Task, and Time Management
  • Collaboration
  • Resource and program management
  • Reporting via Power BI
  • Customization and integration
  • Mobility
Project Web App
Project Web App. Source : Microsoft

Project for the web is built on the Microsoft Power Platform. The Power Platform consists of PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, Power BI, and Microsoft Dataverse. Project for the web data is stored in the Dataverse.

Microsoft Power Platform is a powerful, extensible platform for business processes and functions. By building core project management functionality on the Power Platform, we can leverage the power of this platform and deepen our interoperability with Dynamics 365.

Project for the web is also built on Microsoft 365 Groups so it works with Microsoft 365 tools you use already so you can collaborate with your teammates on projects.

See all Microsoft Project for the Web Features here

Microsoft Project Online (Professional)

MS Project Online was first introduced by Microsoft in 2013, and for purpose of understanding could be considered a combination of all the Desktop Solutions accessible via the internet, through three different subscriptions or Plans as apposed to a perpetual license. Subscription to Microsofts Plan 3, gives users access to all the functionality of Microsoft Project Professional 2021, as well as access to Project for the Web and Project Online Desktop Client, which is an Application that can be downloaded to a PC in order to access Project Online from your PC. Microsoft Project Online (Professional) therefore in the past has been referred to as being the same as Microsoft Project Professional 2021. But this is not entirely true as Microsoft Project Online on the Plan 5 option provides more functionality then Microsoft Project Professional (Desktop version). Some features include :

  • View visualized timelines
  • Simplify work with a visual experience
  • Get best-in-class templates
  • Collaborate and communicate easily
  • Follow roadmaps
  • Make informed decisions
  • Create reports
  • Tailor your project management
Microsoft Project Online Interface
Microsoft Project Online. Source : Microsoft

These days, it would make more sense to refer to Microsoft Project Online when referring to the subscription version of the Microsoft Project solution. These online applications are available through Microsofts Subscription plans, namely Plan 1, Plan 3, and Plan 5. Subscriptions provide access to different 

Microsoft Project Online (Enterprise)

Subscription to Plan 5 thus offers users access to all the functionality under Plans 1 and 3 but with added advanced features, such as Portfolio selection and optimization, demand management, and Enterprise resource planning and management. 

Microsoft Project Online Features
Source : Microsoft


Although Microsoft Project Solutions can be confusing to understand, its easier to think about it as an On-Site solution vs Cloud Solutions, as Microsoft Project vs Microsoft Project Online, and a once-off Purchase vs a Subscription. The following terms are what Microsoft currently use to describe their offerings and are the naming conventions to remember and understand going forward :

Microsoft Project Standard 2021 : Desktop Client with limited collaboration functionality downloaded on a PC with a lifetime license.

Microsoft Project Professional 2021: Desktop Client with more collaboration and other functionality downloaded on a PC with a lifetime license.

Microsoft Project Server 2021: Added functionality to manage projects within an enterprise hosted on a server on with a lifetime license.

Microsoft Project Online: Combination of Microsoft Project Desktop versions (mentioned above), accessible through Web Browser and Desktop Online Client as a subscription service, essentially the same functionality as MS Project, with one key difference between Ms Project and Ms Project Online – the inclusion of Kanban boards.

Project for the Web : A limited web-based application accessible with a monthly subscription for Project Managers that require basic project management features

Microsoft Project Essentials: A added subscription for members to collaborate with Users on Project Online Plan 3 and 5.