Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Develop Office Addins in a breeze – Part 1

Five years back I was working on a product, which included Word automation. The task was simple ; let the user create a new Word document from within the product . The product was being developed in Visual C++ 6.0 and there was no VSTO . The key idea behind this feature was Office integration .  I had done this using Word automation and COM plumbing with the Word Object Model.
If you are new to Offiice Development ;  and interested in getting a quick overview, I would recommend VSTO 3.0 for Office 2007 Programming. On the other hand if you want to get more deep ,  I would recommend Visual Studio Tools for Office 2007: VSTO for Excel, Word, and Outlook .
Why Office Add - Ins
Things have changed in the last 5 years. Visual C++ 6 has been replaced by the Visual Studio suite, Windows Programming has become much easier, .NET has evolved,  global economy has gone north and new innovative and useful products have made development easier.
Maybe if I was developing the same product today, the concept might have been different . My boss would have probably told me , “Hey , why not develop a product specific menu  in the Word application itself, so the user can directly talk to our app while using Word”. This approach makes much sense, as it not only addresses our need, but also makes the user feel more comfortable ( he doesn't have to start our application to access  the  specific features )
So I would have landed developing a Word Add-in , maybe using Visual Studio Professional Edition ( Extensibility –> Shared Add In Project )  or Visual Studio for Office ( haven’t used it ever ) .

Developing Office Add - ins using Visual Studio
If you have developed any office add in using Visual Studio, you might have noticed that there are some limitations ( I think limitations is the appropriate word ) as development are done using the smartest possible tools . Now development is considered more meaningful in terms of what revenue it brings to the organisation ROI ( Return on Investment ), and so RAD ( Rapid Application Development ) tools has taken the front lead.
Unfortunately , Visual Studio does not provide developers with a RAD environment for developing Office Add-ins. I am sharing some of the major disadvantages i encountered while using Visual Studio Extensibility project for developing add – ins .
1) No Rapid Application Development ,  i.e there is no easy way to develop the add ins, as the entire add in ( a simple bar ) has also be coded
2) A lot of time spent understanding the Object Model – Developers have to understand the object model of the the application they are developing the add in for. So if you are developing an add-in for Word, PowerPoint, Visio,Outlook, Excel.. you need to understand the object model for all these applications !!!!  With hundreds of functions within each app model, maybe trying to remember all of them all the time would be a bit cumbersome .
3) Shall my add-in support the Ribbon interface – Well every decent software in the store has it. So you should have it too .. but maybe you need a day or two finding out the necessary interfaces and functions .
Now the question is , if you were to develop the add-in in a short period of time , either you would have spent sleepless nights making ends meet , or if you are smart enough, you would approach your boss to get a tool which shall make the development task much more easier for you .
RAD Tool for Office Add-in Development
I guess you shall be smart enough , to ask you boss to purchase a tool which shall make you much more productive . The RAD tool which shall completely integrate with Visual Studio 2005/ 2008 and the beta edition of Visual Studio 2010 and shall help you in creating useful add - in within hours is Add-In Express .
Not only did I find it useful , with it’s RAD development tools,  easy to understand help files and HOWTO examples,  I could develop and deliver a proof of concept  the next day .
I am happy to let you  know that Add-In Express is giving a 10% discount to readers of this blog . Please use the coupon code ADX-GSUJAY-ADX10 while purchasing the Add-In Express at . This offer is valid till 28th Feb 2010 , and is valid for purchases on Standard, Professional and Premium editions .
In my next series of posts, I shall show you how one can use Add-In Express to be more productive .

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