Excel Services is dead – long live Excel Online.
With the release of the first public preview of SharePoint Online, and the release of this TechNet article, the news rapidly went out that Excel Services was dead. And while this is technically true, there is very little cause for concern. Unfortunately, this has led to quite a bit of misunderstanding, some of which can be cleared up by reading more of the article than the parts in bold, and others by digging around a bit. The bottom line here is, there is nothing to worry about.
The first point to make is that everything that you know and love about Excel Services lives on. While Microsoft IS removing Excel Services, what’s it’s doing is reducing both complexity and confusion by moving the relevant capabilities of Excel Services to the Office Online Server. When Excel Services was first introduced in SharePoint 2007, it allowed (among other things) for Excel workbooks to be rendered and interacted with in a browser without the need to use and Excel client. When Office Web App server was introduced in SharePoint 2010, it also allowed for workbook rendering in a browser, along with all of the other Office file formats. It also allowed browser editing of those files. What it didn’t do was allow for data connections and interactions with pivot tables, etc. For this, we still needed Excel Services. In fact, in SharePoint 2013, this required an additional configuration step of turning off XLSX file rendering for OWA.
Moving the necessary capabilities to Office Online Server (this is the name for Office Web App Server) is simply a matter of consolidation and clarification, and I welcome it. However, the new server name is confusing for people, and it leads to the second big misconception, which is that Microsoft is forcing us to use Excel in the cloud to make all this work. Let me make is clear – that is not the case.
When the deprecation article was published that talked about this move to the Office Online Server, the Office Online Server was not yet available in preview (it has been released since). This fact, combined with the name “Office Online Server” led many to the conclusion was that the Office Online services would be required for browser rendering of Office documents. The important word to note in the name is “server” as opposed to “services”. The server can in fact be installed in your domain, and in fact, must be for those data connections and interactivity capabilities. I’m not sure that it’s even possible to bind an on-prem SharePoint farm to Office Online Services, but I could see that as being an interesting scenario
While this fact was not always clear, Microsoft has in fact been doubling down lately on their on-prem BI strategy – Look no further than the BI investments in SQL Server 2016. SharePoint remains the primary deployment platform for these BI investments moving forward.