none
How do I transition an Excel addin to an app that will be published in the Office store? RRS feed

  • Question

  • Hi Folks,

    well I finally upgraded to VS2012, Office 2013 and Windows 8. I have an Excel addin that I distribute on a commercial basis but also have a free version available. Its a statistics package that was developed in VS 2010. When this addin is installed a new tab appears with lots of buttons where users can do various types of analysis within Excel. I have recently been advised to turn this Excel addin into an app that can be sold in the Office store. I am new to all of this and do not know where to start. It is not even clear to me that it can be turned into an app so I am keen for some advice.

    For example, what type of project should it be? Are their examples out there in cyber land where an Excel app is basically a new tab on the ribbon with lots of buttons that do things? I see some potential in the app store as a new business model but right now I am pretty much a baby in the woods.

    (you can have a look at my addin at www.statisticianaddin.com)

    Thanks

    Bernie


    Bernie

    Saturday, June 22, 2013 4:12 AM

Answers

All replies

  • Hi Bernie,

    Thank you for posting in the MSDN Forum.

    App for Office is not designed to be a replacement for traditional Office solution. You can not always achieve what you can do with Office PIAs.

    If you want to create Office Apps, you'll need to install Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio 2012 first.

    Then, it's available by clicking "New Project"->"Templates"->"Office/SharePoint"->"Apps".

    You can start from Build apps for Office.

    Hope it helps.

    Best regards,


    Quist Zhang [MSFT]
    MSDN Community Support | Feedback to us
    Develop and promote your apps in Windows Store
    Please remember to mark the replies as answers if they help and unmark them if they provide no help.

    • Marked as answer by Bernie Ok Monday, June 24, 2013 11:21 PM
    Monday, June 24, 2013 1:06 PM
    Moderator
  • Thank you for your response Quist Zhang,

    OK, I now understand that a traditional Office solution and an Office app are not the same thing. But here are a few thoughts they you may be interested in commenting upon.

    (1) The whole point of an app is to increase the functionality of Office. Rather than restricting apps to being either a task pane app or content app, perhaps Microsoft might consider introducing a new type of app, (ie, a Ribbon app).

    (2) Given the potential benefits of marketing through the app store, would it be possible to work around the current structure of an app. For example, could an app consist of a task pane with a single button called 'Install MySoftware'. When the user clicks 'Install MySoftware' an Excel addin is installed from a remote website. I guess this could work in principle but would Microsoft be OK with distributing this type of app through the app store?

    Best,

    Bernie


    Bernie

    Monday, June 24, 2013 11:21 PM
  • Hi Bernie,

    Thank you for your last reply.

    (1) I'll try to feedback your suggestions to product group. Meanwhile, you can send suggestions from "Send a Smile/Frown". You'll see it on the top right corner of Office Applications.

    (2) This forum mainly focuses on development related issues. Since your second issue is more related to the Apps restrictions and legal aspects, I suggest you post it on Publish Apps for the Office Store forum.

    Hope it helps.

    Best regards,


    Quist Zhang [MSFT]
    MSDN Community Support | Feedback to us
    Develop and promote your apps in Windows Store
    Please remember to mark the replies as answers if they help and unmark them if they provide no help.

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013 6:02 AM
    Moderator
  • Hi Bernie,

    You may also find this blog post to be a useful read:  "Roadmap for Apps for Office, VSTO, and VBA"

    Hope this helps,

    - Michael


    Michael Zlatkovsky | Program Manager, Visual Studio Tools for Office & Apps for Office

    • Marked as answer by Bernie Ok Saturday, June 29, 2013 12:33 AM
    Friday, June 28, 2013 11:52 PM
  • Hi Micheal,

    thank you for providing the link. I read your article and it was indeed helpful. I am still thinking about how to transition my Statistical addin (see www.statisticianaddin.com) written in vb.net to an Office app.  (see http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/4c1b6d07-f172-4404-b6e1-028a8ba255f7/can-i-publish-an-excel-addin-to-the-office-app-store). I am still waiting for a reply but I hope someone at Microsoft is thinking about my questions.

    Anyhow, thanks for your help.

    Best,

    Bernie


    Bernie

    Saturday, June 29, 2013 12:21 AM
  • Hi Bernie,

    There certainly are folks looking into this, myself included.  Is there a video (as short as a couple of minutes) that shows the full end-to-end interaction that users do with your add-in?  That would help us understand the scenarios your are after, and help us prioritize work in this area by comparing those with other requests/scenarios we have seen request for...

    If you want your voice heard and have a spare moment to record a several-minute screencast, by all means feel free to post a link to it here.  Or, if you'd rather keep it more private and only shown to a small group of people within Microsoft, you can email a link to me at Michael.Zlatkovsky@microsoft.com.  Looking forward to seeing it...

    Thanks,

    - Michael


    Michael Zlatkovsky | Program Manager, Visual Studio Tools for Office & Apps for Office

    Wednesday, July 3, 2013 6:37 PM
  • Thank you Michael,

    I am at an academic conference at the moment but when I return to my work PC (in about 4 days), I will see what I can do about a video (I haven't done one before).

    To gain an appreciation of what the addin is all about you may wish to try it out (there is no cost for the Lite version). You can download & install it from www.statisticianaddin.com. Basically, once installed the user has a new ribbon tab installed in Excel. The software itself is a number of forms that are activated by clicking buttons on the ribbon. If you also download the Quickstart guide and workbook you will see what I mean (it require about 20 minutes of your time).

    I do appreciate you and others at Microsoft taking my inquiries seriously.

    Best,

    Bernie


    Bernie

    Thursday, July 4, 2013 12:29 AM
  • Hi Bernie,

    No rush.  I did look through the Quick Start guide and manual, but in terms of having something to show to my team and to really capture the end-to-end experience, something like a screencast would be much easier to demonstrate.  Looks very interesting...

    Looking forward to hearing from you,

    - Michael


    Michael Zlatkovsky | Program Manager, Visual Studio Tools for Office & Apps for Office

    Thursday, July 4, 2013 9:40 PM
  • Hi Michael,

    well I managed to produce a screencast titled 'How Statistician 2.0 Works'. I am not entirely sure if what I produced is what you require so feel free to request changes to the screencast. You can view it on Utube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8gkZBFnA_8&feature=youtu.be.

    Best,

    Bernie


    Bernie

    Saturday, July 6, 2013 11:52 PM
  • Hi Bernie,

    That is very informative, thanks!

    If you feel inspired to make a follow-up video, one thing I would love to see is a little bit more of the various windows and the interaction with Excel.  From what I've seen in just this video, the interactions ultimately involved just having Excel read and write data.  So, based on what I've seen, I think you could implement something like your add-in even using today's object model for apps for Office.  It would take a bit of re-imagining (without the ability to display external windows or to add buttons to the ribbon, you'd probably need to implement everything as part of a single task pane, with interchanging content for what used to be the various windows), but I think it would be doable.  At least, the ability to read and write data [albeit unformatted] based on selection is certainly possible.  And as for the calculations -- both for execution speed, porting of code, and the protection of IP -- you could implement those as Web API calls (e.g., wrapping portions of existing C#/VB functionality as a web service), and essentially sending the data from the HTML controls and the underlying data to a Web API service for processing.  See my blog post here for Web API details:  http://blogs.msdn.com/b/officeapps/archive/2013/06/10/create-a-web-service-for-an-app-for-office-using-the-asp-net-web-api.aspx

    Since there are other parts to your add-in I've not seen, there might be some limitations you might run into (e.g., in you need to write in formulas, or access other workbooks, or access arbitrary data on the worksheet outside of the selection) -- but I'd be very curious to learn what they are.  The capabilities of the apps for Office model will certainly continue to evolve to encompass more scenarios.  But, if you do feel inspired to create another video with more of a "whirlwind tour" of the rest of the functionality, I'd be very curious to see it!

    Thanks again, and best of luck!  I look forward to hearing from you,

    - Michael


    Michael Zlatkovsky | Program Manager, Visual Studio Tools for Office & Apps for Office

    Monday, July 8, 2013 7:59 PM
  • Hi Michael,

    Thank you for instructive message. OK, I can now see how my statistical addin could, in principle, be transitioned into a web based app. However this comes with a number of compromises. No forms, no ribbon, limited user interface on the task pane, and it is unclear to me how Data Variables would be stored for ongoing use. It all seems that a great technology like VSTO (and an addin like Statistician 2.0) is being ‘squeezed’ to fit in with the philosophy behind the Office app store.

    So let’s do some philosophy. My question is, ‘What is an app?’. (I promise not to touch upon ontological questions.) On a cell phone, an app is predominately a web based application. As is an app distributed from the Office app store. Now consider Windows 8, the Start screen displays a number of tiles which are considered to behave like apps. But these ‘apps’ are in fact the usual programs one would expect to see on a Windows PC. So in Windows 8, an app is a program, but it may also be a web based application. So what is an app? Of course this comes down to a matter of definition. I can understand why Microsoft would be keen to integrate the user interface between PCs, laptops, tablets and cell phones by calling all applications an app.

    I think the definition of an Office app should be expanded. (Note that I speak with complete ignorance about Microsoft’s agenda’s, plans and priorities.) I think that an Office app should be any technology that enhances the functionality of Office (be that web based or not). So an Excel addin developed with VSTO could be considered to be an app, and could be called an app rather than an addin. Further, I believe that an Office addin should be able to be distributed through the Office app store. If this line of reasoning is accepted, then a change in Office app policy is required rather than any major technical changes.

    The fact is I am hesitant to transition my addin to a web based app (as it is currently defined), because the use of forms and the ribbon suit the nature of my app (sorry, I mean my addin), so well. The Office app store is new and no doubt will evolve over time. At the moment, I am inclined to adopt a wait and see stance.  

    I have uploaded a new screencast that hopefully addresses your query. I am not sure that there is a great deal extra to learn from this video but you can view it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZHOWOWzZwY . All forms used in Statistician 2.0 use the same interface. Basically, listboxes and comboboxes hold the Data Variable names for users to select and lots of textboxes, radiobuttons and checkboxes so that the user can control the output. The only additional feature of relevance in this video is that sometimes formulas are outputted rather than simply text and numbers.

    Again, I do appreciate the time and effort that you have put into addressing my questions.

    Very Best,

    Bernie


    Bernie

    Tuesday, July 9, 2013 7:59 AM
  • Hi Bernie,

    Thank you very much for recording the second video, it did help me a lot to see the scope of the add-in:  not just the amount of functionality, but also the re-use of the same controls across windows, the fairly large screen estate that the forms take, the formulas in that last Holt-Winters Time Series, etc.

    The apps for Office model is an evolving model, so we are looking to increase support and functionality over time.  In your case, if you're content with the current technology offering, deployment opportunity, and marketability offered by your VSTO add-in, waiting and seeing is a perfectly valid option.  That said, you may still want to create a "lite" app for Office, both as a way to advertise the full-fledged VSTO add-in, and to see where that might lead :-)

    Regarding the more philosophic "what is an app questions", this is unfortunately beyond my realm of authority, but I did circulate your comments internally to raise awareness.  I appreciate the thought and time you put into this.

    As for the Data Variables, I think this issues is actually quite easy to solve:  you could use either window.localStorage, or you could even have the data roam across users computers (and not be subject to cache clearing) by storing it in a database.  See my recent response on http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/office/en-US/7a5bf608-7f31-452b-a486-da47c1971c49/implement-a-session-mechanism-in-an-office-365-app which I think is quite applicable for your scenario as well.

    Hope this helps, and best of luck if you decide to pursue the apps route!  The statistician add-in does look like very neat tool (and, you're right, it does produce very easy to-read output), so I wish you all the best in getting it to more customers via the Office Store :-)

    - Michael


    Michael Zlatkovsky | Program Manager, Visual Studio Tools for Office & Apps for Office

    Friday, July 12, 2013 2:55 AM
  • Thanks Michael,

    just as a postscript to this helpful thread, I will further pursue the possibilities available through the Office app store. I do accept that the future will be in the 'cloud' and developers like myself need to start thinking in these terms. Perhaps I will produce some sort of minimal app to start off with and then develop it. I am not content with the deployment opportunities and marketability offered by my current business model and the Office app store does seem to offer a better way forward.

    Thank you and all the very best,

    Bernie


    Bernie

    Saturday, July 13, 2013 12:47 AM
  • Excellent, looking forward to seeing it!  Happy coding!

    - Michael


    Michael Zlatkovsky | Program Manager, Visual Studio Tools for Office & Apps for Office

    Saturday, July 13, 2013 12:51 AM