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Microsoft Office 13 embraces Web development

Joab Jackson | Aug. 10, 2012
With the upcoming release of Microsoft Office 13, Microsoft is encouraging developers and administrators to use open Web technologies such as JavaScript, CSS and HTML to build their add-on apps.

Microsoft offers the ability for enterprises to run their own in-house app stores for users to find and download internal apps, and Office will also offer connectivity to a new app store that Microsoft will open for Office and SharePoint as well.

Also, moving apps to the server side expands the range of supporting technologies developers and administrators can use. "The app developer can use whatever Web technology they like -- .Net, PHP, SQL Azure," Jones said.

Structurally, each Office and SharePoint app will be a package, consisting of an HTML interface, a simple XML manifest file that describes how the app can integrate with Office and SharePoint, and JavaScript code for functionality that needs to be run on the local machine. The next Office will come with a built-in engine to run the JavaScript code.

Web technologies offer another big advantage, Jones said, in the ease in which data can be imported and exported to and from Office. "We found that finding data and getting it into Excel is a big hurdle for folks. Once you get it in there, there are so many people who can build amazing visualizations for the data," Jones said. With this model, any data that can be carried over the simple REST (Representational State Transfer) protocol can be used with Office.

Office data can also be exported to other apps. In one demo, Jones showed how state-by-state cost-of-living data in an Excel spreadsheet can populate a Bing map of the United States. Each state's data is represented by a bubble, the larger the bubble the higher the cost of living. Another demo app could search a phrase highlighted in Word on the Bing search engine. The pop-up windows for both of these apps were formatted in HTML.

To help developers and administrators get started, Microsoft set up a new Office developer center to offer documentation, discussions, tutorials and samples. The site also offers a workspace with areas to test apps against Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Exchange. And when an app is finished, it can be easily submitted to the Microsoft app store for Office. Using technologies borrowed from Visual Studio, Microsoft has also released a new browser-based developer environment code-named Napa that allows developers to build apps.

In addition to encouraging organizations to build their own apps in-house, Microsoft is also hoping that third-party software vendors will build interfaces for their own Office and SharePoint products through the new Office Web API. Nintext, for instance, has formatted its workflow add-on for SharePoint as a Web app. "It makes it much easier to reach a new set of customers, and to have easier deployment and management," Jones said.


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