Difference Between Excel Services, Excel Web Access, Excel Web App, and Excel Online
When you hear terms that are very similar, it can often get confusing to understand the difference between them, especially if you don’t work with them on a regular basis. A good example is the terms related to Excel, such as Excel Services, Excel Web Access, Excel Web App and Excel Online. Do you know exactly which one are you using and why? Which one should you be using and when? And does it really matter? Luckily, Microsoft has put together a nice table that answers a lot of these questions. But first, let me explain what the differences are between Excel Services, Excel Web Access, Excel Web App and Excel Online so that the information in the table will make more sense to you.
Excel Services is a service that runs on SharePoint Server 2013 on-premises. The service allows you to view Excel workbooks and interact with them in a Web browser in SharePoint 2013. The big deal about this service is that it allows interacting with Excel workbooks even if you don’t have Microsoft Excel desktop application, which is part of Microsoft Office 2013, installed on your computer. However, if you have Excel desktop application installed on your computer, you can securely publish an Excel workbook with Excel Services and share it with other employees in your organization. For more information on publishing, read the article Publishing a workbook to a SharePoint site. You can manage the workbook by limiting access with permissions so only the trusted authors can modify the file. This gives you a lot of flexibility in a corporate environment because Excel Services lets you manage a single copy of the file that is shared with many users. By the way, the data doesn’t necessarily need to be in the Excel workbook, it can come from an external source, such as a different database. Excel Services are managed by the SharePoint Administrator in the Central Administration console where he/she can configure Trusted File Locations, Trusted Data Providers and Connection Libraries, and configure several global settings for the service.
NOTE: If you are using SharePoint on-premises and your URL looks like this “http://[servername]_layouts/15/xlviewer.aspx?id=/Documents/…” then you are using Excel Services to render the Excel workbook.
Excel Web Access
The following screenshot shows a view that displays the entire workbook, the sales data and the chart. I created this demo just to give you an idea of how the Web part works.
You can view only part of the workbook, such as a chart.
You can also view just the data that shows the sales figure.
NOTE: Excel Access Web Part can also be connected to some other Web parts, such as Current User Web Part or a Filter Web Part.
Excel Web App
The Excel Web App is part of Microsoft Office Web Apps Server and is nothing more than a browser-based version of Excel. Well, isn’t Excel Online also the browser-based version of Excel. Yes, it is. So is Excel Web App same as Excel Online? Yes and No. Excel Web App is the browser-based version of Excel and works with SharePoint Server 2013. Excel Online is the browser-based version of Excel that works with SharePoint Online. They both essentially offer the same service but are really different products in some regards. I should point out that the new name for Microsoft Office Web Apps Server is Microsoft Office Online Server, which is currently in beta. For more information check out my article What is Office Online Server and Why SharePoint Server 2016 Needs It?
- If you login to your SharePoint site on-premises and use Excel in your browser, you are using Excel Web App (not Excel Online).
- If you login to your SharePoint site on-premises and your URL looks like this “http://[servername]/_layouts/15/WopiFrame2.aspx?sourcedoc=/Documents/…” then you are using Excel Web App to render the Excel workbook.
When you are in Office 365 and use SharePoint Online to open an Excel file in the browser, or use the cloud version of Power BI, you are using Excel Online. Power BI has a cloud version used in Office 365 but also a desktop version that can be used on your local computer. There is a lot to know about these services that you use in the cloud. The more you know, the better off you will be. If you are an IT administrator or a person who is responsible for supporting the end users then you really need to spend time to better understand the finer details of Excel Online, otherwise you can end up spending too much time troubleshooting and trying to figure out why one person can open an Excel file in the browser but another person cannot.
So now you know that Excel Online is the online version of Excel in the cloud that allows you to create or edit an Excel workbook in a browser window. But did you know that when you open an Excel file in SharePoint Online (which is part of Office 365), the file size is limited to 10MB? That’s right. You can’t open files larger than 10MB, unless you are using Power BI (free or Pro version), in which case the file size can be as large as 250MB. Okay, what I just said is not exactly correct because not every file that is up to 250MB in size can be displayed in the browser window when you use Power BI. If an Excel file is larger than 30MB then you must configure it in a certain way to display it in a browser window as explained here. Now you see what I meant that you really need to get familiar with the subtle differences on how the product works, especially if you are the person who is responsible for supporting others. Not to make things complicated but what I just told you related to the Power BI applies to what Microsoft calls the previous version of Power BI (Power BI in Office 365). It doesn’t apply to the new version of Power BI. The new version doesn’t have a name. It’s just called new Power BI for now.
NOTE: If you login to your Office 365 site and use Excel in your browser, you are using Excel Online (not Excel Web App).
Here’s the table from Microsoft that shows a comparison of Excel Services, Excel Web App and Excel Online. You can use this table as a reference but always visit Microsoft’s Web site for the most up to date information.
|Supported in Excel Services (SharePoint Server 2013, on premises)||Supported in Excel Web App (Office Web Apps Server, on premises)?||
Supported in Excel Online (in the cloud)?
|Create or edit a workbook in a browser window||No||Yes||Yes (file size limits apply)|
|View and interact with a workbook that contains a Data Model||Yes||No||Yes (file size limits apply)|
|Refresh data in a workbook in a browser window||Yes (in most cases)||Depends on the data sources. Workbooks that contain a Data Model are not supported.||Yes, provided the data sources are supported and the workbook does not exceed a certain file size|
|View and interact with a workbook that contains a Power View sheet||Yes||No||Yes (file size limits apply)|
|View and interact with a workbook that contains a Power Map view||No||No||No|
|View and interact with items, such as PivotCharts, PivotTables timeline controls, and slicers||Yes||Yes, so long as those items do not use a Data Model as their data source.||Yes (file size limits apply)|
|View and interact with a workbook that contains calculated items (such as Calculated Fields, Calculated Measures, or Calculated Members)||Yes||Calculated Fields (created by using Power Pivot) are not supported.
Calculated Measures and Calculated Members are supported for viewing.
|Yes, provided the data sources are supported and the workbook does not exceed a certain file size|
|Display a single item from a workbook in its own Web Part||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|View a workbook in a browser window when the workbook is in a SharePoint library that has Information Rights Management (IRM) applied||No
You must open the workbook in Excel
As you can see, it is important to understand the difference between Excel Services, Excel Web Access, Excel Web App and Excel Online. Hopefully this article has been helpful and now you can make good decisions when you deploy any of these services in your environment.
Here are some additional links that you may find useful. A couple of these links refer to Excel 2010, not Excel 2013, but the articles have a lot of useful information.
- Getting started with Excel Services and Excel Web Access
- Roadmap for publishing an Excel workbook
- Office Web Apps Server Overview
- What is Office Online Server and Why SharePoint Server 2016 Needs It?
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