Apps for Office revisited
It’s the New Year with new beginnings and all those similar things. A good number of people are no doubt taking stock of last year and setting goals for this year. If you are true Type A personality, you did this back in October and are almost ready for your 6-month self evaluation. If so, good luck, I hope it goes well for you.
Me? I’m still thinking through these things. I give myself until the end of January. When I started, I began thinking through what I do for a living and its prospects for the future. I refer, of course, to Office development. I know what works and I think I understand where Microsoft is headed in the future.
If you have been reading this blog, (I hope) you read the post I wrote proclaiming the Office App Store dead-on-arrival (DOA). I want to revisit this topic to see how well my thoughts of nearly a year ago stood-up.
The key points from last year’s post are:
- I like Office and I like Office 365. I think they are solid… the best Office suite in the market.
- The future of Office extensibility is the Apps for Office model.
- The Apps for Office extensibility model is weak and will not be accepted by developers nor users.
- A moderate rant of “doom and gloom”.
So, how’d I do? Let’s review.
Status of the Office Store
It’s been almost eleven months since I compiled some stats regarding the number of apps in the Office App Store. Back then, the app store had only recently open so I cut it some slack and hoped for some real adoption. Last March, the app store had 120 apps for Excel, Outlook, and Word combined.
Today? Well, for all supported Office apps (Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Project, SharePoint, and Word), the combined app total is a whopping 318. Here is a breakdown of the app total by Office application and app category.
The total for Excel, Outlook, & Word apps is 211. That’s a 76% increase over last year. A 76% increase is impressive if you are discussing large numbers. When 91 additional apps represent a 76% increase you don’t have growth. You have hobbyists who are tinkering and having a bit of fun with the platform. You have “tire-kickers” taking the API for test drive by publishing an app to see what happens.
With 318 total apps… what you have is stagnation. Stagnation is the opposite of platform adoption.
If you take a detailed look at the apps, you will find that most apps superfluous. They either do something Office already does or they serve as “gateway” apps to a vendor’s real version of the application. By “real”, I mean a VBA, VSTO, or COM add-in version.
Shine a little light Microsoft?
I’m not surprised by the lack of adoption. I won’t even say “I told you so” because I think I wrote what the Office developer community was already thinking. I took a look at Office.com today just to see what type of emphasis the App Store receives on the site.
The Answer? None!
The App Store is so inconspicuous as to be completely hidden. There is a menu item labeled “Store”… but that’s it. Sometimes what companies (and people) don’t say speaks more loudly than what they do say. In the case of Apps for Office the lack of emphasis says everything… apps are not a compelling reason for users to adopt Office (traditional & Office 365)
To me, the Office.com screenshot says:
- “Office is all you need”
- “Office is enough”
Okay fine. But why, then, does Microsoft continue to invest in an additional extensibility model?
What’s the point of the Apps for Office model?
This question is easier to answer than you might think… especially when you have an opinionated writer typing away. The answer to this question is the following:
- Kids these days: Kids entering the workforce today don’t know diddly-squat about Windows development. They know web, iOS, and Android. They also know tons of other non-Microsoft programming languages.
- Services: That is, Software as a Service (SaaS). The major vendors are done with the traditional licensing models. Software now lives in the cloud and we pay monthly for it. Heck, we are now accustomed to this model and have convinced ourselves we like it.
Combine these three points together and what you see is Microsoft de-emphasizing Office extensibility. Yes, they still value it but they need it to be lighter weight and out-of-the-way.
But don’t worry
The truth is… for all the hub bub about Apps for Office… nothing has changed except we have a new way to extend apps.
- VBA is alive and well
- VSTO continues to ship with Visual Studio
- COM Add-ins remain the best way to build professional Office solutions. Keep in mind that VSTO utilizes the COM add-in architecture.
The Apps for Office model might turn into something good. Microsoft says they will continue to invest and improve the API. We see proof of their investment with the recently released tools for building Cloud Business Apps.
Not much has changed in a year for the Office App Store but I don’t think this fact changes Microsoft strategy. They have large piles of cash and can afford to be patient. Just look at Windows Phone. Many tech journalist-writer-types wrote it off long ago. Yet, WinPhone shows signs of life and might become a real player. Microsoft is in the midst of a pivot. Office is perhaps the key player in this pivot.
For now, the App Store is just another option for extending Office. It’s not the most powerful option so consider your options and choose the model that fits your solution’s needs. I recommend you keep your eye on Apps for Office however, Microsoft is placing a large bet on its eventual success.