Apps for Office: Introduction and Overview
With over a billion users worldwide, Microsoft Office is already a premier platform for productivity, and with the release of Apps for Office, developers have a powerful new resource for extending and enhancing the suite of apps to solve new problems. In this series of blog posts, we’ll see how the Apps for Office platform works, how to get started, check out some of the ways it allows developers to add new features and interactivity to the suite of apps, and lastly, see how those additions run on both the desktop and online versions of Office. This first entry introduces the platform and its features, and will be followed by a series of posts demonstrating the different ways you can integrate with the various Office apps.
Apps for Office and Office 365 Platform
One important distinction to make is the difference between developing Apps for Office and developing with the Office 365 platform. Apps for Office offers a way to enhance the suite of Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Project and Outlook) with new functionality that runs on both the desktop and online versions of Office. On the other hand, the Office 365 platform is a set of API endpoints allowing you to connect to an Office 365 user, their information, and data, such as email, calendar, and even OneDrive. In a future series we’ll dive into Office 365 development, but this series of posts focuses on extending Office applications via the Apps for Office platform.
Task Pane Apps
Content Apps are displayed inline, embedded within the content of the document itself. These can be useful for providing real-time information such as charting or other live data based on the contents of the Office document. The Bing Maps App is a great example, allowing you to easily map relevant data from Excel in real time.
Designed specifically to work with Outlook for both desktop and online, Mail Apps allow you to present apps directly inside of an email, meeting request, or appointment. These apps allow you to present relevant information to the user without having to leave Outlook. The Package Tracker from Microsoft, which detects tracking numbers in an email and shows the latest status of any associated packages is a great example of a Mail App.
While Mail Apps are obviously limited to Outlook, Content Apps can run in Excel, PowerPoint and Access. Task Pane apps are the most versatile, being supported in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Project. And because these apps are all written as standard websites, they run without modification in both the Windows and Mac versions as well as Office online. Also, when apps are installed to an Office document, they remain embedded within, meaning they can then be shared via OneDrive or email. If the application is public (or the user has access to the internal App Catalog) the recipient will see the app automatically when opened, even if opened online.
As mentioned, Apps for Office can be published publicly to the Office App Store and even sold to end-users. These can be inserted into any compatible app via the Insert section of the Office Ribbon, where the Office Store is readily accessible. Alternatively, the manifest can be uploaded to an internal SharePoint or Office 365 tenancy, allowing only authorized users who are logged into their company account to access them. This is especially helpful for testing purposes, as we’ll see in a future post. Finally, if an app is going to be of limited use, it can also be deployed to a trusted network share. We’ll explore all of these scenarios in future posts.
Wrapping Up and Next Steps
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