Microsoft Office Filter Pack 2013 now available, but it's not needed by Exchange 2013

[Update March 2013: Despite frequent requests to Microsoft for an update on this topic, the Office 2013 Filter Pack seems destined to remain a figment of my imagination. It was there, I downloaded it, and then it was gone. The good news is that Exchange 2013 is happy to use the Office 2010 Filter Pack. The better news is that Exchange 2013 doesn't really need the Office 2010 Filter Pack because Search Foundation contains most of the software necessary to understand common email file formats, unless you need to work with OneNote or Publisher files. Read on to the original post... when the Office 2013 wasn't so imaginary.]

If you’re running Exchange 2010, you might have seen the recent announcement that Microsoft Office Filter Pack 2013 is now available for download and wondered whether you need to do anything. After all, Exchange 2010 requires that you install the Microsoft Office Filter pack on both hub transport and mailbox servers. The iFilters in the filter pack allow the Exchange search service to index the content of items in common Office formats (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and so on) found in user mailboxes. Exchange’s transport system also uses the iFilters to examine attachments when transport rules exist that act on attachments. Companies also install third-party iFilters to allow Exchange to process other common file formats that aren’t in the Office Filter Pack, such as Adobe’s PDF format.

Up to now, Exchange 2010 hub transport and mailbox servers have required the installation of Microsoft Office Filter Pack 2010 (original version plus SP1), so the question is whether you need to move up to the new version. The answer so far is “no” as the Office 2010 Filter Pack is quite sufficient and no major format changes were made between Office 2010 and Office 2013.

Out of the box, Exchange 2013 poses a different question because it uses the Search Foundation for content indexing and the Search Foundation is able to process standard Office file formats as well as some other third-party formats such as Adobe PDF without the need to install any iFilters.

FilterPack

Therefore, you do not need to install the Office Filter pack on servers before you install Exchange 2013. However, the current version of the Exchange 2013 Setup program will protest if it finds that the Filter Pack is not installed on any server that hosts the mailbox role. You could ignore the squawks of protest from Setup (I did), but a lingering doubt might then exist that something else would be broken, so if you want to calm your nerves, go ahead and install the Filter Pack on the basis of  "if in doubt, best install". Ah, software engineering at its finest...

To be fair, you might need to use some of the iFilters in the pack to allow Exchange to access and index items because some formats are not automatically accessible through Search Foundation. The two most common examples are OneNote and Publisher, which you make available to Search Foundation and the transport system by installing the Office Filter pack (see http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj674307.aspx for information about how to register iFilters so that they can be used by the transport system). Search Foundation is able to switch between its own format access routines and iFilters, so it’s also possible to extend its capabilities by installing a third-party iFilter to cope with another file format that is not covered in the Office Filter pack.

But back to the Microsoft Office 2013 Filter Pack. You can certainly install this version of the Filter Pack on Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2013 servers if you like and it won’t cause any problems. I doubt you’ll get much additional value but I could be wrong. Maybe time will tell!

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Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and the author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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