Welcome to Microsoft Webmail's new doc preview

Exchange 2013 no longer has WebReady Document Viewing, as Webmail document preview is now handled by a new server

If you migrate from Exchange 2010 to Exchange 2013, you lose the Open as Web Page option for viewing Office and PDF documents in Webmail on computers that didn't have Office installed. That means users accessing email via Outlook Web Access (OWA), aka Webmail, in a browser won't be able to see previews of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and PDF documents as they had been able to.

But Microsoft didn't really remove this capability, known as WebReady Document Viewing -- it just moved it to a new server product, known as Office Web Apps Server (OWAS). In Exchange 2013, SharePoint 2013, and Lync 2013, the server makes a Web App Open Platform Interface (WOPI) call to the OWAS server, and the OWAS server renders the documents.

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Unlike Exchange 2010's WebReady Document Viewing, OWAS's WebReady Document Viewing also works with SharePoint and Lync. For SharePoint only, it also lets users edit their Office documents in the browser. And the document fidelity in OWAS is much better than it was in Exchange 2010's OWA.

But setting up OWAS takes more work than required for WebReady Document Viewing in Exchange 2010.

The actual installation of Office Web Apps Sever is a piece of cake. You can install it in Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012. Follow the instructions posted at Microsoft's TechNet site on how to deploy Office Web Apps Server to ensure you're properly configured, and run the PowerShell cmdlet noted there. Once the server is ready for OWAS, download the installer image file and run it -- it's an easy Next, Next, Finished kind of install.

But note there is no graphical management interface for OWAS -- it's all done through PowerShell. Fortunately, not too many cmdlets are involved. To see a list of them, type Get-Command *office*; they're mostly Get, New, Remove, Repair, and Set cmdlets with OfficeWebAppsFarm, OfficeWebAppsHost, OfficeWebAppsMachine, and OfficeWebAppsHost as the noun portion of the cmdlet.

The most effort in configuring OWAS involves creating and configurating the farm. For a production environment, you need to get an appropriate SSL certificate from a third-party certificate authority, but for testing purposes you're welcome to try using an HTTP connection rather than an HTTPS connection.

To create the farm, use the New-OfficeWebAppsFarm -InternalURL https://farmdomain -ExternalURL https://farmdomain -CertificateName friendlycertname -EditingEnabled.

To test if your server is working properly, try to open a discovery URL by entering https://farmdomain/hosting/discovery. If your farm domain is owas.companydomain.com, the URL would be https://owas.companydomain.com/hosting/discovery.

Now that the OWAS server is ready, you need to configure each Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync server to work with it. Each server has its own configuration method. For Exchange, use the Set-OrganizationConfig cmdlet with -WACDiscoveryEndpoint and indicate the full path to the discovery point (such as https://owas.companydomain.com/hosting/discovery).

At that point, barring any difficulties, check your WebReady settings for your Exchange 2013 virtual directory and/or OWA policy to ensure you have it enabled. Send a test email with an attachment to a test user and ask that person to connect to email via OWA. In the email message should be the Preview option next to the attachment; ask the person to open that attachment to verify everything works properly.

I didn't have a chance to work with OWAS in SharePoint or Lync, but my TrainSignal colleague Bill Kulterman got it working pretty handily. He says he was "thrilled at how easy it was." It took him about 10 minutes, following the instructions on TechNet.

One thing to keep in mind is that by default SharePoint uses HTTPS to communicate with the OWA server. Kulterman didn't use SSL in his testing, so he had to make sure that he allowed SharePoint to communicate via HTTP. Doing so is a simple matter of using the AllowHTTP PowerShell cmdlet when creating the SPWOPIBindings and changing the SPWOIZone to internal-http.

If you plan on using Exchange 2013, SharePoint 2013, or Lync 2013 and you want Office and PDF attachments to render via the browser, you must use an OWAS server. Although it's a bit more work, it's not that hard -- and you get better document fidelity plus editing capabilities in SharePoint for your troubles.

This story, "Welcome to Microsoft Webmail's new doc preview," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blogand follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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