Ty Anderson

Enterprise development of Office solutions with Add-in Express

Microsoft Office based solutions take various forms and sizes. What began with the ability to write (and record) scripts to automate Office documents on a user’s desktop has evolved to the ability to create full-fledged extensions. These extensions often work across multiple apps in the Office suite and expand beyond a single user’s desktop.

Office-based solutions do more than make the individual more productive. They have long been able to make groups of people more productive. Group size varies. A group can be a team of 2 or more, or it can be a department within a company, or it can be an entire company. The size of the group isn’t as important. What is important is the distinction made by developing a tool for a group versus a tool for an individual. When you do that, you have entered the realm of Enterprise development.

  • What is Enterprise Development to the Office developer?
  • Add-in Express is the toolset of the enterprise Office solution developer
  • Version neutrality: support Office 2013 – 2003 with one project
  • Reduced development costs
  • True RAD experience
  • Integrated deployment solutions
  • Add-in Express simplifies development of enterprise Office solutions
    • What is Enterprise Development to the Office developer?

      To many, it isn’t much of anything. In fact, a significant number of developers are ignorant to the capabilities of Office. That’s too bad because the platform rocks. Not only does it rock, Office has to be the productivity platform with the largest user base.

      But a large number of organizations do know about Office development and are building complex solutions that meet the needs of their business. People utilize these solutions. People organized as groups, teams, departments, divisions, regions, and externals (external users – I created this word just now). These solutions are also utilized by other applications… which, I argue, comprise another set of users. The point I’m making is, enterprise-class Office extensions meet the following criteria:

      • They extend Office’s capabilities by implementing custom business rules/logic
      • They work across multiple Office applications (e.g. Outlook, Word and Excel)
      • They extend beyond the desktop
      • They are a component of a larger solution comprised of many applications
        • They utilize logic from these apps
        • The other apps utilize logic from the Office solution
      • They have a significant user base
      • They need to support multiple versions of Office, from 2003 to 2013
      • Deployment needs to be easy for the IT department and for the users

      I’m not saying all these items must be met to qualify as “enterprise-class”. I am saying that if you find yourself saying “yep” to these items as you inventory your recent solutions… it is a good indicator you have an enterprise solution. And if you have an enterprise solution… you’re going to want enterprise developer tools.

      Add-in Express is the toolset of the enterprise Office solution developer

      Over the years, I’ve been involved with several multi-national corporations. The developers in these corporations have amazed me by the solutions they were building with Microsoft Office. They had tricked out Office in some truly clever ways. But, in each case, they were making it too hard…

      Too hard on themselves as developers…
      Too hard on the IT guys tasked with keeping it running…
      – And –
      Too hard on their users.

      In every case, I introduced them to Add-in Express for Office and changed their lives. Life changing? Really? You bet your sweet bippy! Allow me to explain.

      Version neutrality: support Office 2013 – 2003 with one project

      With lots of users you will need to support multiple versions of Office. There isn’t a large organization in the world that isn’t running two (or even three) versions of Office at the same time. Heck, this is true of smaller companies too. If you build with Add-in Express, who cares? It doesn’t matter because you can support Office 2000 to 2013 (all editions and all flavors, 32 bit and 64 bit) with a single code base.

      If the last sentence didn’t make you smile with joy, then you must not have much experience developing with Office. This feature alone is reason enough to adopt our toolset. If it isn’t then consider version neutrality includes Windows (support for Windows XP to Windows 8) and Visual Studio 2005 to VS 2012.

      Reduced development costs

      Building enterprise-class software requires a team. Oftentimes, the team includes people internal and external to the organization. Meaning, there is more than one version of Visual Studio in play. Especially in times, like today, when a new version of Visual Studio is available and only a minority has adopted it. Add-in Express supports all versions of Visual Studio, from 2005 to VS 2012. If you are stuck in the past with VS 2008, no problem. Don’t spend your money on a VS upgrade. Instead, save some dough and purchase Add-in Express. Using Add-in Express you can use older (and just plain old) version of Visual Studio to build solutions that target Office 2013. You can’t do that with out-of-the-box older Visual Studio features. You have to upgrade VS along with Office.

      A True RAD experience

      Business solutions exist because they provide value to the enterprise. Users have a need for a set of features and the people who write the checks agree to fund it. What everyone wants are the features. They don’t care about the how it is architected, how nicely the code is organized & formatted, or it uses the latest MVVC design pattern.

      Likewise they don’t care that you can’t show them how the UI yet because you have to write a bunch of code to manage it within the various Office windows. This stuff makes their ears bleed. What they want is for you to solve the problem… stat!

      Add-in Express makes it possible to quickly build enterprise-level extensions and provide value. We do it via the rapid application development (RAD) modules that implement the plumbing needed to connect your extension to Office. I refer specifically to Add-in Express modules that implement the COM interfaces, create the registry settings, provide access to the Office object models, and allow you to visual design custom Office user interface elements (i.e. ribbon, toolbars, task panes, Outlook form regions, etc.).

      Add-in Express does 95% of the work. This allows you to forego plumbing in favor of architecting and developing.

      Integrated deployment solutions

      Deployment needs can vary from a basic setup project to a complex, custom Windows installer. Through Add-in Express support of three deployment models (MSI, ClickOnce, and our very own ClickTwice) we meet the needs of corporate deployments.

      If you need to install to restricted (non-admin) users on a per-user basis or want to install on a per-machine basis and allow for web-based updates… we have you covered.

      • Need to support Active Directory and Windows group policies? Yep, we support it.
      • Need to deploy via file shares, your intranet, and the web? Yep, we can do it.
      • Need to push deployments when a user logs into their system? Easy.
      • Need to perform custom actions during installation? Yes, of course!

      Add-in Express simplifies development of enterprise Office solutions

      Enterprise Office solutions are by definition complex and prone to causing headaches. The number of project sponsors, decision makers, and other interested parties is enough to cause a bit of daily consternation. They want they want and don’t understand the complexity or what you, as the developer, face when building Office add-ins. This is as it should be.

      So why not ease your pain and do something help to make it happen? You will not only help teams of people be productive… you will help yourself.

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