Office 2013 SP1 and you… the developer
I’ve done some grumbling the past 12 months when it comes to the Apps for Office extensibility model. I don’t care to repeat myself in detail but the gist of my complaints is this web-based extension model is too limited… heck, extremely limited. I expressed concern that Microsoft was not investing in the right features and was heading in a direction where the user is in complete control and the developers can do little more than insert data in the current cursor location. In fact, key people at Microsoft agreed with me:
The release of Office 2013 Service Pack 1 offers significant new features the Apps for Office developer. In fact, this service pack is so jammed full of features I wanted, that I have gained confidence Microsoft will ultimately make this platform worth your time and investment.
So what’s in Service Pack 1? Like I said… a LOT. I’ve compiled the information here in an effort to make it bookmark-worthy starting point/reading list to help you get-up-to-speed.
- What Microsoft says about SP1 for Office 2013
- Things you should download
- Important links you should bookmark return to often
What Microsoft says about SP1 for Office 2013
- The marketing overview and “rah, rah” speech :: Here is the post about Office 2013 SP1 from the Office blog. Its informative and points out what Microsoft believes is most important and will garner your developer affection.
- Office 365 Web APIs :: Microsoft is now ready to market Office 365 as viable developer platform. The Office 365 Web APIs provide objects and services via REST, OData, & OAuth. Yes, APIs exist for SharePoint Online, Lync Online, Exchange Online, etc. But now, we can utilize a consolidated Office 365 API that provides access to all them. It sure sounds simpler. I like where this is going.
- Office Web Widgets :: There are pre-built controls that provide that provide a common feature in a way the users of Office 365 expect. In essence, they are equivalent to WinForm controls… but for… you know… Office 365. Currently only two web widgets are available: People Picker and List View. I really like the people picker. I love the idea of web widgets. These two widgets are experimental, so proceed with caution and give Microsoft your feedback on UserVoice.
- Outlook compose apps :: This one might be just be the #1 sign that MSFT is serious about making Apps for Office a player. Mail and Appoints now support compose apps (read and compose forms). We can now insert content in the places where we expect to (body, subject, address fields). Also, the new API supports adding attachments. Oh, paid apps are now supported (finally!). I know more than a few of you are excited about this along with me.
- PowerPoint content apps :: It seemed strange the PowerPoint didn’t originally support this given Excel and Word did. That’s water under the bridge now as PowerPoint now supports content apps. In addition the API now supports navigation, theming, and file handling.
- Excel formatting in content apps :: If a user inserts data into Excel, they are going to want to format it. I think the same holds true for developers. With the updated API, you can now format cell and cell contents.
- Debug Options for Excel task pane and content pane apps: In Visual Studio, you now debug against the desktop and online versions of Excel. For the online version, you can specify either Internet Explorer or Google Chrome as the browser. I assume this feature will be available later for Word, Outlook, & PowerPoint.
- Cloud Business Apps :: RAD development for Apps for Office. There is a nice code sample here that also highlights the new SAP data connector.
- OneNote Service API :: Evernote is now squarely in Microsoft’s crosshairs. I hope MSFT adds tagging soon. I think we will see, many more apps like this one that let you store all the things your brain disregards. Where has this been? Why has it taken so long? Oh well, I’m excited about it and what possibilities it presents.
- Access support for Apps for SharePoint :: Access apps are now SharePoint apps! You build the app with the Access client but the app runs in SharePoint within a browser. In addition, Access apps now support Apps for Office. A content app can now target Excel and Access via the table binding API. I think I need to update my thoughts on Access’s future. I’m a fan of Access and glad to see there is life in it yet.
- Office 365 SDK for Android :: A good sign that MSFT considers themselves a software company instead of Windows company. Again, where has this been? Better late than never I suppose.
- Office Store changes :: The Store now supports subscriptions and anonymous download and activation. Also, Apps are more prominent in the Ribbon.
There are more changes and new features than I can list here (e.g. Word and OneDrive updates). But this list should be enough to whet your appetite to learn more.
In the list above, I pointed the various API improvements. Here is a list of key info regarding the new API in Office.js and other changes.
- Additions and Updates to the Office JavaScrpt API :: This list is the technical details for the items listed above. My summary here:
- Navigation API :: Navigation is now possible within Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. Using this API, you can move the focus of the worksheet, document, or presentation to jump around the file contents and display what you want.
- Data Formatting API :: This API is for Excel only. It allows you to format cells residing in tables and set some attributes.
- FileProperties API :: Using this API, you can modify properties of Excel, Word, and PowerPoint files.
- Table Binding API :: You can now insert matrix data as an Excel table object.
- Release notes for apps for Office (Office 2013 SP1, office.js v1.1, schema v1.1) :: Always read the release notes. They are the fine print and are not to be ignored.
NOTE: If you have existing apps using the 1.0 version of Office.js, you will need to update your project to use version 1.1.
Things you should download
With a release of this impact, you will need to install a few updates. For your convenience, here is list of tools you need to download in order to develop with the new APIs.
- Office 2013 Service Pack 1 :: Without the service pack, you can’t use the new stuff!
- Office Developer tools for Visual Studio – March 2014 Update :: The new tools you need to develop with the new stuff!
- The SharePoint and VBA code analyzer :: This might be useful. I don’t do a ton of VBA development these days. I like that MSFT is now providing tools to help everyone port their existing code to Apps for Office. Here is a little more info about the tool.
- Office 365 Web API Tools for Visual Studio
- Office 365 SDK for Android :: Now, where is the SDK for iOS, WinPhone, and Xamarin? I’m like my 7 year-old daughter… "Thanks for the goodies, can I have a soda too?"
- Apps for Office showcase apps and code samples :: Code samples are a great sign that MSFT is serious about a platform. This is a good sign and the samples might prove helpful.
Important links you should bookmark return to often
This is in addition to this page of course!
- Office Developer Portal :: The official voice of Office development is not to be ignored.
- UserVoice for Office (and SP) developers :: Every bit of Microsoft produced content regarding SP1 mentioned UserVoice. They definitely want our feedback. I bet they even act on (some or more) of it.
- Office Tools update from the LightSwitch Team :: I tend to think of LightSwitch as an Office development tool. And given the Cloud Business App project template is based on LightSwitch, I’m correct.
- SharePoint Conference Videos on Channel 9 :: It’s almost as good as seeing the presentations live! Actually, it’s better because you skip the babbling intros and the required marketing slide at the end of each session. Oh, you can watch in your Underoos if that’s your thing.
This is exciting stuff. I’m interested, engaged, and excited myself. This is not say I’m ready to ditch everything in favor of Apps for Office.
It is to say, that MSFT looks serious about the platform and ready to duke it out with Google Docs and their Addons model. For Office developers, it means we need to dig-in and be ready for when our clients want these apps in the near future.