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Microsoft debuts cloud app model for Office, SharePoint

Thor Olavsrud | Aug. 13, 2012
With Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013, Microsoft says it will make it easier than ever to develop, deploy and manage Web-based apps that extend the power of its productivity and collaboration.

In July, Microsoft released the customer preview of Office 2013. Lost in the discussion of features and what the productivity suite will mean for Microsoft's tablet initiative is a complete reimagining of the model for Office and SharePoint, which that creates a whole new market for developers.

"This is the most significant change to Office and SharePoint in the last 15 years," says Richard Riley, a director in Microsoft's Office division in charge of the SharePoint product marketing team.

Microsoft is betting that its installed base of Office users--more than 1 billion strong--will allow it to translate the success of Apple's App Store and the Google Play store in the consumer sphere into an Office App Store that plays a similar role in the enterprise.

"The number of people that actually have Office is a huge addressable market for developers," adds Brian Jones, group manager of the Office Solutions Framework Team at Microsoft.

"If you are already an Office or SharePoint developer, you're going to love what we've done with the new model, while we continue to support your existing solutions," he adds. "If you aren't yet an Office developer, but you build web solutions, you're going to want to give us a big hug, as we're bringing you a huge set of potential customers."

Microsoft Introduces Cloud Application Model

Under the new cloud application model, developers can leverage common Web languages and standards like HTML, JavaScript, CSS, OAuth, REST and OData to create add-on apps. Unlike the apps created with Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which resided within the local copy of Office, apps created with the cloud app model can be attached to and run inside particular documents, but reside on a Web server. You can host them on-premises or with just about any hosting provider, including Windows Azure, IIS, LAMP or AWS. And, of course, enterprise administrators can control, manage and update the apps centrally.

"It's similar to the model you see with Facebook," Riley says. "Facebook isn't hosting the app you just added to your page, Zynga is. Facebook just asks for the right bits when you engage the app."

Microsoft has opened a new Office developer center as a central repository of documentation, discussions, tutorials and samples to help developers create these new apps.

Since the apps are inserted into documents via URL pointers, they travel with the document when it is shared with colleagues.

"It really is a brand new way to use Office and SharePoint," he adds. "Web standards have been key to the whole way we put this together."

Office, SharePoint Apps Tackle Docs and Data

Jones says he believes many users will be taken with the power apps bring to Excel. He shows off one app called Olympic Medal Tracker that gathers real-time online data about events at the London Olympics and inserts the data into a spreadsheet.


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