Microsoft Releases Office Online Server to MSDN

Office Online Server, Microsoft's successor to Office Web Apps Server 2013, became available to MSDN subscribers on Monday.

While Microsoft had released Office Online Server on May 4 for its volume licensing customers, its availability from the MSDN download page had lagged until Monday. The new 64-bit only server can now be downloaded from the MSDN portal here. Also available are several Language Packs.

Officer Online Server allows organizations to run browser-based versions of Office applications from on-premises infrastructure. Microsoft has its own service-enabled version for consumers, called "Office Online" (formerly known as "Office Web Apps"), but the consumer service likely lacks the controls that organizations may require. Office Online Server, in contrast, lets organizations host browser-based versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word from their own infrastructure, using either physical servers or virtual machines.

Office Online Server is turning out to a requirement of sorts for organizations that are expecting to reap the benefits of some of Microsoft's 2016- and 2013-branded server products. It enables capabilities associated with Exchange Server 2016, Skype for Business Server 2016 and the newly released SharePoint Server 2016 products. Microsoft's announcement of Office Online Server also explained that it will be backward compatible with those 2013-branded server products.

For Exchange Server 2016 users, Office Online Server permits Outlook on the Web users to view and edit file attachments.

For Skype for Business Server 2016 users, Office Online Server enhances the viewing of shared PowerPoint on the Web files.

For SharePoint Server 2016 users, Office Online Server enables real-time collaboration among end users via Office on the Web files. This real-time collaboration capability lets multiple users edit an Office document in near real time. It also permits end users to see document previews in their SharePoint search results, according to Microsoft MVP Vlad Catrinescu, in an interview. He also described the use of Office Online Server as important for tapping business intelligence capabilities with SharePoint Server 2016, as well as "durable links," a feature that lets end users find SharePoint files that have been moved. The use of Office Online Server also enables file attachments to work on premises using the OneDrive storage service. Microsoft refers to that capability as its "modern attachments" feature.

Microsoft's product line architecture team also recently said that Office Online Server is "a must" for organizations wanting to use the Excel Web Part with SharePoint Server. Microsoft plans to deprecate the use of Excel Services with SharePoint Server and is instead bringing those capabilities into Office Online Server.

While Office Online Server is a free download for volume licensing customers, it just enables "view-only functionality" and PowerPoint-on-the-Web document sharing capabilities for Skype for Business users, according to Microsoft's announcement. Certain other licensing is required to use its other capabilities.

"Customers that require document creation, edit and save functionality in OOS will need to have an on-premises Office suite license with Software Assurance or an Office 365 ProPlus subscription," Microsoft's announcement explained.

If that's a deal breaker, Microsoft is promising to sweeten the deal somewhat for organizations. It will waive its Software Assurance requirement through Aug. 1, 2019 if organizations buy on-premises Office 2016 volume licensing before Aug. 1, 2016, according to the announcement.

Office Online Server Setup
Setting up Office Online Server for testing purposes looks to be an involved project for IT pros. They will have to set up HTTPS certificates to use it. Likely they will have to use Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), Microsoft's patch management solution for large organizations, or System Center Configuration Manager to manage Office Online Server updates.

It's not possible to use Microsoft's automatic update service with Office Online Server as it can cause issues, according to this Microsoft TechNet article:

Applying Office Online Server updates by using the Microsoft automatic updates process isn't supported with Office Online Server. Updates to an Office Online Server must be applied in a specific way, as described in Apply software updates to Office Online Server. If Office Online Server updates are applied automatically, users might be unable to view or edit documents in Office Online. If this happens, you have to rebuild your Office Online Server farm.

Moreover, IT pros likely will be tasked with uninstalling and then reinstalling Microsoft Office in their computing environments if planning to use Office Online Server.

"If [Microsoft Office is] already installed, you'll need to uninstall it before you install Office Online Server," the TechNet article states.

Microsoft's overall TechNet documentation for Office Online Server has lots more details and can be found at this page.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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