Extending Office to the Web
Office has always been a gateway drug for business app development. You could start with macros, move to VBA, and then build your own apps that connect to Access and to SharePoint. Then came Visual Studio Tools for Office, which added .NET support and allowed you to build apps that ran inside the Office tools – including inside Outlook. Anyone could build and share an Office app, allowing teams to customise tools and integrate productivity apps with line of business systems.
A lot of what Microsoft is doing with development tooling in Office 2013 is familiar to anyone who’s built an app that uses web APIs – especially any Web 2.0-style mashups or a Salesforce Force.com Apex app. With more enterprise applications and cloud services offering RESTful JSON APIs, the tools and technologies that make up HTML 5 are suited to deliver user-interfaces and basic business logic, displaying external data in context of a document.
Access is the application everyone thinks of when they think about Office development, with years' worth of legacy departmental Access apps still filling PC and server disks with data. It’s still got that role, though now data has moved out of its own database files to local SQL Server stores and to SQL Azure, and user interfaces are now web pages. There’s a lot to be said for taking the Azure approach – it reduces the load on departmental hardware, and increases the reach of your code, while still letting you use enterprise authentication tools to lock down access.
Once completed, Office apps can be deployed and shared through Office’s own app store. The Office Store lets you share or sell your apps, as long as you’ve developed a generic tool rather than something specific to your own business. An internal App Catalog powered by SharePoint does much the same for internal apps, whether you’re running it on premises or using Office 365. IT departments can monitor the apps running on their networks using built-in telemetry tooling and a new Office Telemetry Dashboard.
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