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Office Online Server Deemed 'Essential' for SharePoint 2016

Office Online Server will be "essential" for SharePoint Server 2016, Microsoft indicated late last week.

That point of view comes from a recent blog post from Microsoft's product line architecture (PLA) team. "Product line architecture" refers to Microsoft's preferred architectures for software and hardware deployments, where Office Online Server is recommended for use with SharePoint Server 2016.

Office Online Server is the successor to Office Web Apps Server 2013, which lets organizations host browser-based Office applications (such as Excel, PowerPoint and Word Web applications) on their own infrastructure. Currently Office Online Server is at the preview stage, but it's expected to be available when Microsoft releases SharePoint Server 2016.

Microsoft released the RTM bits of SharePoint Server 2016 today. So far, though, there's been no news about the release of Office Online Server. The idea that the two products will be released together comes from a Microsoft product manager, but it was kind of a rumor.

One of the reasons why Office Online Server will be essential is that Microsoft is deprecating Excel Services when used with SharePoint Server. Instead, it's bringing those capabilities into Office Online Server. Microsoft uses the word, "deprecated," to refer to software that it's no longer developing, although the software still continues to work.

Microsoft's PLA team explained one of the reasons for the switch, which has to do with enabling document rights management protections:

Excel Services in SharePoint Server 2013 provided a way to interact with workbooks with data models in a browser, refresh them, work with Power View in a browser as well as PivotCharts, PivotTables and calculated fields. But, you could not create or edit a workbook from the browser or view it if it had rights management applied. For that, you needed Excel Web App and you had to make a choice of which to use.

For organizations wanting to use the Excel Web Part, "deploying Office Online server is a must," the blog post explained. Microsoft is also associating the use of Office Online Server with the ability of users to preview Office files from a list.

In addition, the "durable links" feature in SharePoint Server 2016 requires the use of Office Online Server. This feature permits users to rename and move files across folders but the files still can be found because Microsoft substituted a numbering scheme for its old file-name location scheme.

Office Online Server was described as "SharePoint's long-time companion" in the blog post. It also will be useful for use with "Exchange, Skype for Business, file shares and other web sites," Microsoft indicated.

Organizations have to deploy an Office Online Server farm that's separate from their SharePoint Server farms, according to Microsoft's TechNet library description. An editing license will be needed to edit documents, according to this SharePoint Server 2016 configuration article.

About the Author

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

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