11 March 2013

Why Office Store Has No Apps

When I first heard that Microsoft would open an Office Store for apps and that it would be possible to reach it from inside the Office applications I was delighted over the new possibilities this opened for Business Solutions.
The Office Store button in Excel
With Office applications in Office Store, users could download and install them directly into their Office, and Microsoft would check all apps and guarantee their quality. Unfortunately Office Store has not turned out as well as I had hoped. To explain why I will first give some background information.

API means Application Programming Interface, and it is a protocol  used to make software components communicate with each other. An API may either be protected or released for all. When it is protected  the organization holding the copyright selects developers who may license the API. These organizations get licensing revenues and can also control the app development.

APIMicrosoft has chosen another way and publishes the APIs for Windows, SharePoint and Office for free and for anyone to use. This way anyone interested can develop applications that build on the Microsoft platforms.

Users get many products to choose from, and even if some tools are less than useful there are a lot of good ones on the market. too To me as a developer it has been important that I could start small and grow with the revenues without loosing my independence.

Office development models
When you want many to develop add-ons to your products you have to give something more than good APIs, and Microsoft thought about that nearly from the beginning. First came Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which is meant for the programming language Visual Basic 6. COM Add-in

VBA is still widely used, but it has its disadvantages and Microsoft no longer invests in improving it. Instead they have given us the COM Add-ins.

The Office applications are such COM Add-ins. A COM Add-in runs considerably faster than a VBA application, and the security is much better. COM Add-ins can be written in several programming languages, so they give developers many more possibilites than VBA.

Store for cloud techniques
The latest trend is to develop for the cloud using techniques like HTML, JavaScript, & CSS, and to support this Microsoft has created a way to embed HTML IFrames into Excel, Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Project.

They also created the Office Store, to make it easy for users to download and install apps that leverage their Office applications – and to compete with Apple, for sure. I was happy about all this until I realized how limited my possibilities are with the new development model.

Too many "cannot"
With the current situation I see no possibility to sell the apps over Office Store. Our Office applications are not simple enough. The idea behind the Office Store API is to leave control to the user, but that means that there is not much I can do as a developer. 

A COM Add-in can create Outlook items, scan incoming e-mails and automate a great number of business processes, but the apps in the Office Store cannot do any of that. My aim has always been to develop products that give users as much functionality as possible, and I am not going to back down on that!

Empty shelves
Empty shelves in the Office StoreIt seems that many developers feel like I do about Office Store, because today the total number of apps is only around 200, and for Outlook I have only found 17  –  all of them free, simple apps that cannot be compared to the Outlook add-ins.

This is not good for neither Microsoft nor Office users, and I certainly hope that Microsoft reconsiders what can be marketed in the Office Store.

One important reason for maintaining and expanding the Office Store is that all apps are checked by Microsoft before they are published. This way users get protection against unreliable vendors, and serious vendors get a quality stamp. Business Solutions is a Microsoft Silver partner, and that is a good guarantee for customers. Our SharePoint and Office applications are also presented at the prestigious Microsoft website Pinpoint.

Still, we would welcome a possibility to be present in the Office Store also – without compromising our quality!

Some links to other blog posts about the Office Store problem:
4 February:
21 February:
4 March:

Peter Kalmström
CEO, Business Solutions

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