How Microsoft Improved Microsoft Office Web Apps

Brian Alderman

by Brian Alderman on 5/8/2015

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Article Details

Date Revised:

Applies to:
deployment, Microsoft Office Web Apps, OWA, patching

Description: Learn how Microsoft changed the deployment of Microsoft Office Web Apps—making the applications more accessible and OWA patching seamless.

Separating SharePoint from Microsoft Office Web Apps helps all products

Microsoft made some big changes between the SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 versions in regards to the deployment and configuration of Office Web Apps (OWA). At first glance, you might think that Microsoft is just trying to get more moola from companies by separating the Office Web Apps into a different SKU, thus forcing them to buy it, in addition to SharePoint. But if you look closer, Microsoft did SharePoint admins a big favor, as well as Exchange, network, and Lync admins, by separating the two products.

Microsoft Office Web Apps (OWA)

In SharePoint 2010, Office Web Apps were deployed as a service application. This meant that if I had multiple SharePoint farms, I would have multiple instances of these service applications. This also meant that if I wanted to patch SharePoint, it affected the Office Web Apps. Or if I wanted to patch any of the Office Web Apps, it affected SharePoint because they were so tightly integrated. But now with the products separated and acting independent of each other, the independent patching makes it so much more robust than it was in the past.

Also, with the separation of these two products, Office Web Apps became more versatile, and more accessible than ever. Why? Because, now that you create an Office Web Apps farm that’s not integrated with your SharePoint farm, it’s completely independent. With this break out, you are now able to provide access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote browser-based applications from SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, file shares, and web sites — using the browser of your choice. Users can access this farm and these apps using Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari on PCs and MACs, as well as tablets, slates (allowing both view and edit capabilities), and of course, smart phones (only supports viewing functionality).

In addition, if you aren’t using one of these applications, or are using one of them more heavily than the others, you can control the role each server is playing in your Office Web Apps farm. For instance, let’s say you are running a financial company and you have lots of users who spend a good share of their time using Excel. There is still a need for Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote, but a much greater one for Excel. So one helpful configuration option is that you can define what role each server plays. With the demand for Excel being so high, you can have one server running all roles but Excel, and two other servers in the Office Web App farm configured to respond only to Excel requests. This enables you to create more powerful machines for the Excel servers, and lighter machines for the other applications.

Speaking of machines, the Office Web App farm is a perfect scenario for using virtual machines, and lowering the cost of hosting the Office Web Applications, as well as providing the ability to scale as needed by adding servers based on demand. You can deploy your Microsoft Office Web Apps farm on a single machine, and then as demand increases, you can add more machines to meet that demand.

In addition to all of that good news, the Office Web Apps product also introduced several new features including:

  • Change tracking in the Word app
  • Comments can now be viewed, added, and replied to in Word and PowerPoint
  • Word and PowerPoint now have the nifty co-authoring functionality
  • Users can share documents with other users by sending a link to the document
  • Quick preview is available in a SharePoint search result set, allowing users to view the contents of a document within the thumbnail view of each supported document type

Office Web Apps have even better news. Microsoft does not require client access licenses to access the Office Web Apps farm to view documents! No matter what device, browser, or software you’re using, it is FREE to view documents. However, users must have licenses if they will modify documents using the Office Web Apps farm. The action to modify a document can only be performed from within SharePoint, and only if you allow it when configuring the integration between the SharePoint farm and the Office Web Apps farm.

I think that Microsoft improved the versatility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness of Office Web Apps tremendously by separating the browser-based Office applications from SharePoint and making them accessible by other applications, browsers, and devices. You should deploy and take advantage of the new and improved Microsoft Office Web Apps in your organization.

Topic: Deployment

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