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Article – Office Web Apps Part I – Introduction

OWA-Office Web Applications is a brand-new product introduced by Microsoft to take information workers to the next level with their existing Office experience. It helps information workers to merge the power of Office suite with the great amount of features of Internet Browser. 


  • You may be a large organization which has already invested a huge amount on Office licenses. But the no of productive users may be very less and thinking about the other various investment methods to cater upcoming requirements. What that means is, only a small set of people will be responsible for creating Office based documents using the full feature set of the Office client but you will need to accommodate the request of others to be able to view/ access Office based documents. It’s time to save money on licensing and at the same time catering organization requirements.
  • On top of the above scenario, you may have large amount of people who do not wish to have full Office client installed due to various other reasons. They may be factory workers, who need to just access the data, charts, etc... to carry out their duty, but they don’t wish to have any authoring responsibilities.
  • Another scenario would be, you may want to take the power of Office suite to the next level by having multi-user authoring capability, allowing users to author document on the go with a light-weight and browser-based version of office.


SharePoint team along with Office team introduced Excel Services with the release of Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007 (MOSS) in year 2007. This was the 1st attempt trying to resolve all the above mentioned and many more scenarios. 

As the 1st release of taking Office into the web, Excel Services provided the capability of publishing Excel Workbooks to SharePoint and share them with peers. Others could view published Excel data, charts without having to install Excel in the client machine. Only requirement was the Internet Explorer. 


Following are the feedback we collected from the customers who used Excel Services and most of them considered as limitations of the product: 

  • One of the major show-stopper was Excel Services features delivered through Shared Services Provider in MOSS 2007 Enterprise Edition. It was not available as part of WSS 3.0 or MOSS 2007 Standard. This ended up Excel Services being popular with very limited set of customers. If a customer wants to use Excel Services, they had to go all the way up to MOSS 2007 Enterprise.
  • From the architecture itself it was very primitive and it supported only read-access to Excel Workbooks over the browser. We could achieve some level of interactivity by creating named ranges but it was not up to the level of other competitor products. In nutshell, it didn’t allow people to author Excel Workbooks via browser.
  • One other major limitation was, as name indicates it was limited to Excel. We couldn’t open any other Office based document within the browser. Only exception was InfoPath 2007 which allowed us to gather user data via browser with InfoPath Form Services. It was meant for collecting data and initiating workflows, instead of sharing data with peers.
  • Dependency with Internet Explorer was one other major limitation among all of this. Competitors supported Firefox, Safari while Excel Services was limited to Internet Explorer.

All of above limitations encouraged customers to go for some other competitor products like Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, etc… 

New approach

Microsoft’s answer to all above mentions limitations of Excel Services and delivering Office experience via browser is Office Web Applications. 

While Excel Services is continue to deliver with most of the limitations mentioned earlier, Microsoft is delivering a brand-new product called OWA which can be combined with SharePoint and deliver a great amount of Office experience within the browser. 

Office Web Apps

Office Web Apps

Some of the features are listed below: 

  • It’s absolutely FREELY provided that you have appropriate Windows Server license.
  • OWA can be combined with any edition of SharePoint 2010 starting with SharePoint Foundation 2010 all the way up to SharePoint Server 2010 Enterprise Edition. This allows small and medium level customers to use Office via browser without investing a huge amount for the full-blown server edition of SharePoint 2010.
  • Apart from Excel Workbooks, it allows us to work with Word Documents, PowerPoint Presentations and OneNote Notes over the browser. PowerPoint slide-show broadcast is one of the amazing features of OWA.
  • And it allows us to Author all of these documents via browser. This is a great enhancement over MOSS 2007 Excel Services read-only feature. This allows users to stay in the browser and shift between browse and edit mode quickly. This opens up a new experience for collaboration.
  • It supports the entire browser family including Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Safari. Though it’s not officially mentioned by Microsoft, Google Chrome also can be used as a browser to work with OWA. User experience is not going to be exactly same across these different browsers due to their different technical nature. For instance though Internet Explorer will give ribbon button to Copy text to clipboard, Firefox doesn’t. We need to use keyboard shortcuts to Copy text to clipboard.
  • It support multi-user authoring for Excel Workbooks and OneNote Notes and changes will appear near real time.
  • Accessibility features to reach audience with disabilities. OWA gives screen reader support, ensure all the functionality is accessible via keyboard and delivers high contrast with different zoom models.
  • Architected to provide subscription model. Which means this is not available by default, and we need to explicitly download and install Office Web Apps. Even after installation, it provides a mechanism to subscribe only for the features we require from time to time. Subscription and the configuration is done through SharePoint 2010 Central Administration and it’s based on the new Service Application Model.
  • 03 different offerings for personal use through Windows Live for business use through SharePoint 2010 and for businesses through hosted.

How does it work?

In simple, OWA provides a representation of each document using native browser objects such as HTML, JavaScript and Images. 

What file formats are supported by OWA?

OWA will natively support Open XML file formats such as .DOCX, .PPTX, .XLSX, DOCM, .XLSB, .XLSM and .PPSX. And also OWA will view and convert .DOC, .PPT, .DOTM, .PPTM, .POTX, .PPAM, .PPSM and .PPS formats. 

IRM protected documents will not be supported by OWA. And documents with track-changes feature enabled will provide view-only within OWA. 

Why OWA is widely used with SharePoint 2010?

Even though Microsoft has 02 offerings for OWA-Windows Live, SharePoint 2010 and hosted, commonly and most widely used scenario is SharePoint 2010 integrated mode. Microsoft recommends using SharePoint 2010 as the delivery platform for OWA mainly due to its tight integration with SharePoint 2010 user experience. 

For instance: 

  • SharePoint 2010 Document Libraries can be configured to launch Office Web App viewer for its default click action.
  • If a user doesn’t have the full-blown Office suite installed, Office Web App is launched when the “New Document” option is clicked.
  • SharePoint 2010 can be used a host for PowerPoint slide-show broadcast.
  • OWA Administration will be a part of SharePoint 2010 Central Administration interface.


Office Web Application provides a subset of features of Office suite within the web browser which helps us to manage licensing cost, provide multi-user authoring, cross-browser support, easy to learn and productive web experience and much more features. 

Posted by Joy

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