How to configure Office Web Apps Server for use with Exchange 2013

By Steve Goodman,

How to configure Office Web Apps Server for use with Exchange 2013

Office Web Apps Server represents a way for users to access Web-browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote within OWA. This tip discusses why it's important, requirements for implementation and also details how to build a small Office Web Apps infrastructure and integrate it with Exchange Server 2013.

An introduction to Office Web Apps Server

Since Exchange Server 2007, users have had the ability to view Office documents from within OWA without needing to download the attachment or requiring a local copy of Office installed on the PC.

In Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 this was accomplished via WebReady document viewing, which provided conversion of documents to image format using, in part, a technology called "Oracle Outside In." This Oracle-licensed technology hasn't been without issues; for example, the MS12-058 security vulnerability was exposed earlier in 2012. Also, when compared with Microsoft's own Office Web Apps, it simply looks dated.

Therefore, it's quite logical that with Exchange 2013 release, WebReady document viewing isn't just deprecated, it's completely removed.

After a full Exchange 2013 install, users can still preview attachments, but when they do, they will receive an error message.

Obviously this is not the most helpful error message. It gives the impression that there's a way to enable WebReady document viewing. As I stated before, you cannot. Exchange 2013 is actually complaining about the fact that it cannot access a server running Office Web Apps Server 2013 in order to render the document.

If you want to give users the option to preview documents in Outlook Web App, you must install Office Web Apps Server. Unfortunately, that comes with a caveat. You cannot install Office Web Apps Server alongside Exchange 2013; you must install it on at least one standalone server and configure a farm.

If you're not familiar with Office Web Apps Server, it's time to learn a little more about it.

Office Web Apps Server lets users view and (if licensed) edit Office documents. In previous version, it was really only used within SharePoint to allow users to edit documents within SharePoint libraries via a Web browser.

Office Web Apps Server is used across the three main server products in Wave 15: Lync 2013, SharePoint 2013 and, of course, Exchange 2013. When you consider using it just with Exchange, it seems a bit arduous to install at least one server just to render previews of attachments. But when you take into account that it's a requirement for rendering presentations within Lync 2013 conference calls, and really useful within SharePoint 2013, it makes a lot of sense.

SharePoint 2013, Lync 2013 and Exchange 2013 work very well together, so it makes sense to use the same technology and a single, shared pool of resources to render Office documents across your organization.

Now that you've got a baseline understanding of the technology, let's look at what's necessary to implement Office Web Apps Server. You'll see it's not terribly difficult, and if you're already implementing Exchange 2013, the addition of an Office Web Apps Server will prove very useful if you're considering the rest of the new product suite.

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