back to article Microsoft offers developer tools for its lonely Office Store

Microsoft really wants developers to build apps for the new version of its Office productivity suite – both standalone and subscription – and to that end it has released a new set of tools for Visual Studio 2012 designed to make it easier to develop, test, and deploy Office add-ons. "The Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio …

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Facepalm

Cool, I suppose. But, uhm...

To be honest I have to admit that the integration of Office development within Visual Studio 2012 is actually pretty slick, that is of course if you're into this kind of thing. Which I am, sort off. I got VS2012 Professional, the Office SDK is a free download and then all you need is a version of Office installed.

The thing is; wouldn't it make more sense to start by fixing our interface and feature set before adding new "cool" stuff ?

Many VS2012 developers are anxiously awaiting VS2012 Update 2 which, among several other bugs, also fixes bugs with the (hastily) released blue theme in the theme editor. Sometimes you get black letters on a dark blue background. Which really isn't all that easy to read; and according to the update description its something Microsoft has also come to realize.

But there's more... Microsoft wants us to use their tools to make cool apps. But at the same time they also want to prevent us from doing so.. Sounds strange? Read on..

One of the tools in their discontinued Expression series is Microsoft Blend; a tool which you can use to make "dynamic interfaces" (to put it easy; more info on the website). But, as mentioned, its discontinued and instead embedded with VS2012. You can see on the site itself; instead of being able to download Blend you're pointed at downloading Visual Studio.

And there's the problem; at the moment of writing there is only a Blend version for Windows Phone development or Windows 8 ('app') development. People new to VS2012 who want to utilize Blend for Silverlight or WPF editing are pretty much out of luck; Blend as a stand alone product is gone and there is no full integration with VS2012 as of yet.

There is, however, the previously mentioned upcoming update 2. One of its feature enhancements is Blend for Visual Studio 2012: "Support for Sketchflow, WPF, and Silverlight". All good and well; but what about people who need this tool right now? Well, as said they are out of luck: because if you read closely the update is merely a so called Community Technology Preview (CTP). Put differently: this is merely for testing purposes only, the Team Foundation Server update is the only part which has gotten a "go-live" remark. You're not supposed to use this VS2012 CTP update in a production environment.

So basically Microsoft dumped a tool (Microsoft Blend) while stating that Visual Studio 2012 would be the new all-in-one solution which would provide Blend functionality yet hasn't managed to release it just yet.

Just like they did with Expression Web (mentioned on that same Expression website). VS2012 is supposed to provide all you need for website design / editing. Well; at the time of writing you're IMO better off using Expression Web for your web design where VS2012 can come in handy with programming the underlying logic. It does not provide the same functionality right now.

So summing up: a half-baked interface (don't get me started on the colour removal!) combined with an as-of-yet unfinished feature set. Where people currently using VS2010 (with or without extra "supporting" tools) have a fully complete and functional programming environment.

And they're wondering what is keeping all those developers to embrace these shiney new tools?

For real?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cool, I suppose. But, uhm...

#1. How do old-school VBA macros compare with new Office apps using HTML / JavaScript? Are there any stability issues etc? What about the RAD development times of VBA versus new extension model? How about overall ease of use of developing with these new Office Tools for Excel for instance?

#2. Is this move by MS about creating a whole new Cloudy market for MS using its Store, or actually about making Office apps better....?

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Re: Cool, I suppose. But, uhm...

Is this move by MS about creating a whole new Cloudy market for MS using its Store

I doubt it. The vast majority of Office extensions are written in-house to meet a specific need for a specific company. Not really transferable or marketable.

Putting out the tools to extend Office, okay. Expecting it to be a huge app store? Doubtful.

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Windows

@AC

#1

I can't answer that, because I'm not using any of their new Office stuff. My development is fully based on Office 2010 (which most of my customers are also using) and I have no desire what so ever to upgrade. My main VS2012 usage is building (dll) extensions and (VBA powered) templates. By using VS2012 I can distribute such products using an InstallShield solution; which can be used free of charge thanks to my VS2012 license.

#2

Strictly personal opinion: I think they're trying to make more money by providing less service and solutions. Take their Office 365 environment... Its not bad at all, but can only provide but a subset of what their desktop products have to offer. Yet if you look at what you need to pay for 365 over a longer period you're actually paying a lot more for less money.

Sure; you can end your subscription on a monthly basis. But can you really do that once you've become dependant on such an environment for your day to day work? I would imagine that moving from 365 to a desktop-based solution can be quite a task in itself.

Hook, net, sinker...

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Re: Cool, I suppose. But, uhm...

There really is no comparison between VBA and the new model. The latter is for the personal productivity of power users and not meant for professional solutions, nor distribution for multiple users. Apps for Office store the source in the cloud and code is executed in the context of a web browser with no access to the local PC. This is more secure and allows non-admins to install solutions (except for high security apps). These Apps also work on and simultaneously with Office clients and Office Web Applications.

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Re: @AC

1. MS is not forcing you to change your approach, and you can still do what you do with Office 2013. This is simply an additional model for building web-based solutions for Office that work across the Office clients and Office Web Applications. Apps for Office can be easily installed by non-admins, and are more secure as local PC access is not possible with code that runs in a browser/web context.

2. How is the Apps for Office model removing services and solutions? It's a new model for building them and doesn't replace anything. And this isn't dependent on Office 365 in any way.

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Anonymous Coward

EDIT AND CONTINUE....RIP?

"..but Apps for Office is completely new and the tools and documentation reflect that. Although it does bring Office development into the world of cloud-with-device, it feels unfinished in places, and is a difficult transition for developers used to richer technologies such as Visual Studio Tools for Office."

EDIT AND CONTINUE helped spurn Rapid-Application-Development and speeded-up testing and allowed changes on the fly. Is that now gone from the 2003 / 2013 'new extension' model?

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Anonymous Coward

So is this about making Office better or MS just wants us to switch tools for a new LOCK-IN?

Follow-on comment from the NEW EXTENSIONS link :-

"@ShelLuser:

When I want to develop stuff for my Office environment all I have to do is either open up whatever program supports VBA and start coding. Or if I want to build external stuff I simply pick up VS Express and get to it.

All for free.

What El Reg doesn't mention is that "signing up for an Office 365 developer pass" is only free during the Office 2013 preview. You can see as much here (MSDN Office page).

So in the near future you'll need to cough up some big bucks if you wish to develop stuff for the new Office."

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Re: So is this about making Office better or MS just wants us to switch tools for a new LOCK-IN?

All serious, professional developers use Visual Studio Pro or greater to develop Office solutions. You just need Visual Studio 2012 to build Apps for Office solutions. If you don't have that, you can use the Napa browser tool with your dev account to build them. Nothing is stopping you from using VBA or older VS versions to build add-ins for Office 2013.

http://about.me/ericmlegault

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WTF?

Re: Microsoft begs devs

Yeah, nobody writes applications for Windows.

/s

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Windows

@dogged

I know you probably meant that in a cynical manner, but the way its going that statement could hold true very quickly. Take for example Windows 8 and their store model...

If Microsoft would continue with their current model where developers need to get a subscription for the sole purpose of being able to program for Windows then I sincerely doubt that the model will last very long.

Yet it seems that is exactly what Microsoft is aiming for.

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Re: @dogged

But you don't. Anyone can write for the desktop.

And since absolutely everyone in the entire world hates metro and metro apps (according to the commentards, so it MUST be true), that's all you need, right?

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Re: @dogged

Getting a dev account to test Apps for Office will not be a serious impediment for professional developers - especially those that are already Microsoft focused - since access to MSDN subscriptions (and the dev account) is pretty much ubiquitous. If you're employed as a professional dev and you don't have access to these kinds of resources, then that's - well, pretty bad.

http://about.me/ericmlegault

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Anonymous Coward

Coming soon?

Angry Birds for Office?

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Anonymous Coward

suite's new extension model

I made some reasonable money off office extension software a few years ago. Stopped developing it. The problem is that each new version of Office brings out new features, unsupported for earlier versions. While in the real world we now have users of Office 2003/2007/2010/2013 each with inconsistent api/extension models. Contrast with the Win32 API or .Net where one can fairly easily support the entire installed base of Windows users - a strong factor in the success of Windows. We all get the fact Microsoft want to encourage users to upgrade to the latest office but unfortunately this policy has come at the cost of a healthy add-on business IMO. Double unfortunately, SInofsky brought this approach to Windows 8 - it remains to be seen if the damage will be undone in either the Office and Windows divisions.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: suite's new extension model

Likewise I was well paid for my *Excel* work. It brought some surprising job security. It strikes me that a lot of prototyping will be needed to stabilize extension model apps versus old-school VBA, and this could outweigh any rapid application development benefits...

New Office development is at the point where creating dedicated external apps that encompass Office objects, might be easier that fiddling about with new models within Office-- just a gut feeling and I could be wrong... I'm curious to know if EDIT and CONTINUE for making-changes-on-the-fly has survived all these new Office extension model revisions? I'm assuming E&C is well and truly dead. Anyone know for sure?

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Re: suite's new extension model

Office Object Models as a rule of thumb support every object, class, method and property of previous OMs with each new Office version - except where features are deprecated. Yes, it is always a challenge to support multiple versions of Office with add-ins, but best-practices suggest you develop against the earliest supported version. I agree that multi-version support is painful with Visual Studio Tools for Office, but there are resources and forums to assist. There are also alternative platforms like Add-in Express that offer RAD development tools for Office solutions, including easy multi-version support.

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Edit and Continue is "sort of" supported (for Mail Apps anyway; not sure for Content Apps with Word/Excel):

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/office/fp179827.aspx

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