SharePoint Online is opening my documents in the online version of Office. How can I make them open in my desktop applications?

If you’ve recently implemented SharePoint Online as part of Office 365, you may be feeling a bit baffled as to why every time you try to open a document from SharePoint, it opens in Word or Excel Online, rather than directly on your desktop. This is actually the default behavior for SharePoint documents.

The good news is that this is easy to change.

There are a few places from which you can control your default document behavior. I’ll start by walking through the process by which site administrators can change the default open behavior for all users. After that, I’ll move onto how individual users can change the setting for themselves.

Change the default open behavior for Office documents for all users

You’ll need to be a site administrator to make the changes in this section. This change will impact all users.

To start, make sure that you are on the top-level site for this site collection.

Click the gear in the upper right-hand corner of SharePoint and select Site Settings. From the Site Settings page, under the Site Collection Administration section, click on Site collection features.

About halfway down the page, you’ll see an option called Open Documents in Client Applications by Default. Out-of-the-box, this setting will be inactive. To activate the feature, which will configure SharePoint links to open in client applications instead of web applications, you’ll simply hit the Activate button. It will take a moment to complete the activation. You’ll know that the activation process is complete once the Activate button is replaced with a Deactivate button and a blue Active button, as shown below.

And that’s it – you’ve turned on the setting for the entire organization.

There is one place where this won’t apply: Search results. Even if you configure SharePoint to open documents in client applications by default, it will not change the default open behavior when someone searches for a document and attempts to open it from the search results.

Change the default open behavior for documents opened from search

When a user searches for a document and finds it in the results, the Office application will continue to open in the web app, rather than on the user’s desktop. The intention here, I believe, is to allow users an easy way to verify that the document that they are searching for is the document that they need, by opening a quick read-only version in the browser. The user can then easily edit the document by clicking Edit Document at the top of the screen and selecting Edit in Word or Edit in Excel. 

If you don’t want to go through the extra step of opening online, you can configure SharePoint search to do so. This will not impact other users – it is a user preference setting and will only impact you.

To change your search preferences, start by performing a simple search. This can be anything – we just need to get to the search results page.

Next, scroll to the bottom of the page and, under the pages carousel, you’ll see options for Alert Me and Preferences. You’re going to click on Preferences.

On the Preferences page, under the section called Opening Documents in the Browser you will switch from “Open in the browser” to Open in the client application.

To finalize the change, click Save Preferences.

Now, when you click on links in search results, they will open in the desktop version of your Office applications. Again, changing this setting will only impact you – if other users would like to turn on this functionality, they will need to do so from their own user accounts.


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