Just when you thought the Microsoft Lync Server team wasn't adding a new Lync server role, you hear about Office Web Apps Server, which you need for PowerPoint presentations in Lync Server 2013. It's true: For Lync 2013 users to leverage PowerPoint in Lync conferences, a new server role is needed. However, it's not a Lync 2013 server role that you have to deploy, but an existing server role from SharePoint 2010, which you might already have deployed. Let's take a look at some nuances about this role and break down how it works with Lync 2013.

Related: Lync Server 2013 Deployment Scenarios

What Is Office Web Apps Server?

Office Web Apps Server is the next generation of Microsoft Web Access Companion Server; it allows applications such as Lync and SharePoint to stream PowerPoint presentations efficiently to a variety of endpoints in high resolution. Lync Server 2013 leverages the Office Web App Server to broadcast PowerPoint presentations to Lync 2013 clients -- including the Lync Web App in any Lync Online Meetings (i.e., conferences). This new approach allows the following capabilities:

  • higher-resolution displays
  • better support for PowerPoint capabilities such as animations, slide transitions, and embedded video

Because Office Web Apps Server isn't a Lync Server 2013 role, it isn't collocated on any Lync server role, but requires its own dedicated server (or servers). Virtualization is an option for this server as well; you don't have to deploy it on physical hardware.

Challenges Before Lync 2013

Lync 2010 introduced nuances of sharing presentations remotely with Lync Web App. Over time, remote or anonymous users joining meetings with this method began to experience problems that resulted in limitations on the attendee's experience in the meeting that was joined. Here are just a couple of the more widely published limitations with the Lync 2010 method on which documents were formatted and rendered to users:

  • The embedded PowerPoint Viewer is available only on the Windows platform, which creates problems for users on Linux or Macintosh systems.
  • Silverlight 4 or later is a requirement for joining meetings with the Lync Web App; Silverlight is a Microsoft plug-in that allows the client device to enter the meeting with Lync Web App when the end user clicks "Join Online Meeting" from the meeting invitation sent by the organizer. However, few mobile devices support Silverlight.

How Lync 2013 Addresses the Challenges

Lync Server 2013 uses SharePoint's Office Web Apps Server to solve the problems experienced in Lync 2010. The Office Web Apps Server and its ability to handle PowerPoint presentations helps with the areas mentioned above that in some scenarios were very unpleasant for users attending meetings remotely.

Now, you might begin to ask yourself, “What sort of features am I getting in return for this server role?” Funny you should ask that question! The following features will be available to Lync 2013 with Office Web App Server:

  • PowerPoint enhancements: You'll get high-resolution display for animations, slide transitions, and embedded video.
  • Support for additional mobile devices: Because Lync 2013 uses standard Dynamic HTML (DHTML) and JavaScript to broadcast PowerPoint presentations instead of the customized DHTML and JavaScript that was used with Lync 2010, more devices are now able to access the presentations.
  • Scroll through PowerPoint presentations: Users who have appropriate permissions can scroll through a PowerPoint presentation independent of what the presenter is currently displaying.

To take advantage of these features, you need to associate the Lync 2013 environment with the Office Web Apps Server environment by specifying the URL containing the Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) of the server or server farm hosting the role in the Lync topology builder.

Office Web Apps Server works whether you're running SharePoint 2013 or SharePoint 2010 in your environment. A benefit to running SharePoint 2013 is the ability to deploy and manage Office Web Apps Server as a more standalone product; in SharePoint 2010, it's more tightly integrated, which makes applying updates to the Office Web Apps Server farm (multiple servers) more difficult.

Addressing Key Concerns

The introduction of the Office Web Apps Server does seem like a bait-and-switch: First you hear that there was role consolidation in Lync Server 2013 and then you hear that you have another role to install. The caveat is that it's actually not a Lync Server 2013 role that you're deploying but rather a SharePoint server add-on. The way Microsoft has addressed some key concerns regarding presentations that came up in Lync Server 2010 is nice.

Learn More: 2013 Promises To Be a Big Year for Lync