More organizations are investing greater portions of their Intranet deployment budget on improved search functionalities. Within the SharePoint 2010 product stack, the FAST for SharePoint option provides a whole host of enterprise search capabilities. FAST for SharePoint not only supports more robust search results but more visual results including visual “previews”. In the case of MS Word documents, a thumbnail representation of a document’s first page can be included in search results. In the case of a MS PowerPoint presentation, a clickable preview is supported.
Recently, one of our clients requested that this preview functionality be included in their FAST for SharePoint deployment. I wanted to share what we learned in the process of honoring this request (as there were a few surprises along the way).
Dependency on Office Web Applications (OWA)
It turns out that these visuals are dependent on the installation of OWA within the SharePoint 2010 Farm. OWA must be installed on each and every web front end within your SharePoint 2010 Farm. In our case, the decision to include OWA was made AFTER completion of the Farm configuration, so a very specific sequence of steps needed to be followed to get OWA configured and working. Fortunately, the steps are well documented here but must be followed exactly. Unfortunately, the configuration has a surprising side effect of disabling the SSL connection between the SharePoint web front end and FAST. The Windows PowerShell script used to install the certificate (provided as part of the FAST setup) needs to be re-run to resolve this issue.
OWA Post Install/Configuration
After installation, the OWA feature needs to be activated (or not) for each existing site collection. If OWA is activated for a site collection, a choice of default document rendering – client or browser – must be made. In our case, we wanted to minimize the changes to the end user experience, so we choose to continue to display the documents using the MS Office client. Regardless of client default choice, a “view in browser” link will appear in both search results and document library views.
Claims Authenticated Web Applications
When we first tested the previews, they didn’t work. In our SharePoint 2010 Farm, we had web applications using both “classic” and “claims” authentication. It turns out that there is an issue with OWA and visual preview within claims-secured web applications. (That was, of course, the web application we first tested.) Hopefully, this issue will be resolved in the near future.
Scope of Visuals
It turns out that these preview only work for MS Word and MS PowerPoint files housed within a SharePoint document library. Documents crawled from file shares or web sites will not have previews.
Deployment of the feature had some surprises, but the end result is useful. In particular, this allows a user to more quickly review and find the pertinent documents. In the future, I expect this scope and functionality to be expanded.