Tips on how to get Microsoft Office Add-ins embedded in your suite

Microsoft Office has long been the go to suite for various office tasks, be it creating text documents in Word, spreadsheets in Excel, or presentations in PowerPoint.

Earlier efforts to spruce up this suite came in the form of integrations built using Visual basic for Applications (VBA) and Visual Studio Tools for Office.

While these add-ins were able to bring some cool functionality to Office, like automating documents, embedding interactive objects and connecting to external data sources, there was still some ground to be covered.

I mean, it might have not been a big deal that COM or VSTO add-ins only run in Office on Windows, but to make the most out of technologies like cloud computing across different operating systems, these add-ins had to evolve. Cue Office Add-ins.

So what’s so different about Office Add-ins?

Office Add-Ins allow you to use web technologies such as CSS, HTML and JavaScript to extend Office applications like Outlook, Project, OneNote, irrespective of the platform used (Windows, MacOS and others).

What sets them apart is

Centralized control

Imagine being able to deploy a tool from one place and have it function seamlessly throughout the organization. That’s exactly what Office Add-ins are capable of. No need to hop from device to device fidgeting with configurations.

Easier sharing

An Office Add-in solution created can be made available to a wider audience using AppSource.

This capability can be quite helpful in situations where an organization is working hand-in-hand with another on a project that requires the same tools, but with each organization having some operational autonomy when using the required tools.

Library and platform support

Since Office Add-ins are based on web technology, you can utilize which ever library you’re comfortable with to build them. And no, you don’t have to worry about having solutions that only work on one platform.

With Hybrid working and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) catching on, you won’t be left going back and forth with teammates as they complain about lack of compatibility on their devices.

From Windows to Mac, and web to iPad, everyone can use Office Add-ins smoothly.

Getting Office Add-ins to work for you

For starters, installing Office Add-ins is as easy as going to your Office application, clicking “File”, then “Options”, and then “Add-Ins”. Here, you’ll be able to see a list of installed add-ins and other details about them such as location and type.

To install new add-ins, go to the “Manage” box and enter the desired add-in type, then click “Go”. Alternatively, you can go to AppSource, the marketplace for Office Add-ins, where they are categorized according to criteria such as pricing model, ratings, functionality, etc.

Within this marketplace, you can thoroughly review each listing and understand the account restrictions associated with it. An Office Add-in comes with two major components; the manifest and the web app.

The manifest is basically an XML file laying out settings and capabilities like permission levels and data access requirements, and the way it integrates with Office. It also contains details like the display name, ID, version, description and default location.

Office Add-ins also come with a static HTML page displayed within an Office application. While it doesn’t interact with documents or other online resources, you can use client- and server-side technologies supported by your hosting provider, such as Node.js, ASP.NET and PHP.

When it comes to interacting with Office clients and documents, Office.js JavaScript APIs are your friend. Office Add-ins will enable you to add new functionality to your applications using custom ribbon buttons and menu commands, along with insertable task panes.

All users logged into their accounts and have been given the necessary permission will be able to access the add-ins from within their Office applications, regardless of where they are working from.

 Gerald Ainomugisha is a freelance Content Solutions Provider (CSP) offering both content and copy writing services for businesses of all kinds, especially in the niches of management, marketing and technology.