Microsoft overhauls enterprise Office and SharePoint app development

Microsoft overhauls enterprise Office and SharePoint app development

With the introduction of Office 2013 Preview, Microsoft has overhauled how business developers write Office and SharePoint applications and how users access them while at the same time giving IT administrators the ability to control which applications are available to users.

This cloud application model embraces common Web languages for writing code and includes an online store for purchasing the applications. At the same time, IT professionals are given control over whether end users have access to the entire store or whether they can reach just those apps that have been selected and set aside in a corporate catalog, says Richard Riley, a director in Microsoft's Office division.

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In keeping with the cloud model, the applications actually run in the cloud and render them to the particular file on a user's machine.

In addition, these Web applications are inserted in Office apps and SharePoint, gathering and manipulating data and formatting it. For example, apps for Excel can gather data from the Internet, enter it in a spreadsheet, and also present it in graphs, charts and maps. Apps for Word can gather data from the Internet based on keywords designated in documents, and that data can be linked to the document itself so when the document is shared colleagues have access to the same external data.

These new applications can appear in Office applications and SharePoint as task panes within documents or they can be inserted online. Individual applications can also be strapped together to create more complex applications.

By virtue of being in the cloud, applications used to create documents can be linked to the document. So if an app has been used to create a chart based on data gathered on the Web and entered in an Excel spreadsheet, the document can be sent to other people and they can work on it using the same application to gather updated information. Because the application is in the cloud, the recipients of the document don't have to be running the app locally, just have access and authorization to use the app in the cloud. The cloud could be Microsoft's Azure or Amazon Web Services. The point is it can be virtually any cloud and only Web skills are necessary to develop, Riley says.

The example Riley uses is that of an application written to go along with the Olympics called Medal Tracker. It gathers current online data about medals awarded at the games in London and presents it in a task pane within an Excel spreadsheet. The data is also entered in the spreadsheet itself. A separate app called Bubbles takes the same data about the medals and represents the number of medals won by country with larger or smaller circles that are proportional to the number of medals won. A third app called Bing Maps can portray proportional circles on a map to show the location of countries that have won medals and give an idea of how their haul stacks up to others.

Development of applications is effectively being extended to any Web developer, not just developers trained in Microsoft programming. These new apps can be written using HTML5, JavaScript, CSS3 and others that are familiar to Web developers.

The same cloud application model applies to SharePoint, and there is a separate SharePoint app store as well.

Developers can submit applications to the store, and if they are approved by Microsoft, can be sold there at an 80-20 split, with developers getting 80%. Developers can also set the price within a range to be determined later and the licensing conditions, Riley says.

To try out Apps for Office and Apps for SharePoint, apply for an Office 365 Developer's pass.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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