Microsoft offers developer tools for its lonely Office Store
Visual Studio kit for building Office add-ons exits preview
Microsoft really wants developers to build apps for the new version of its Office productivity suite – both standalone and subscription – and to that end it has released a new set of tools for Visual Studio 2012 designed to make it easier to develop, test, and deploy Office add-ons.
"The Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio 2012 provide broad and deep support, ranging from new templates to new designers to a whole host of integrated lifecycle tools," Soma Somasegar, corporate VP of Microsoft's developer division, said in a statement on Monday.
The new model also allows developers to package and distribute their add-ons via the Office Store, an online marketplace based on the same idea as app stores for mobile platforms – or, for that matter, Microsoft's new app store for Windows 8.
Redmond is doing all it can to drum up interest in the Office Store among users and developers, having gone as far as to yank the built-in dictionary from Office 2013, forcing users to choose an alternative from the Office Store.
So far, however, the shelves at the Office Store are looking even barer than those at the Windows Store. Aside from the dictionaries, plug-ins for printing labels, and tools for integrating with online services like eFax, there's not much to entice most users – something Redmond surely wants to change.
The Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio have been in development since July 2012 – long before Office 2013 became commercially available – and Microsoft has issued significant updates for them since the initial preview release.
With Monday's production release of the tools, Redmond has added still further capabilities, including a code validator that developers can use to catch common errors before submitting their apps to the Office Store, in addition to what Somasegar describes as "a lot of fit-and-finish" to the tools' UI.
The tools for Visual Studio offer a richer development experience as compared to "Napa", an online tool for Office add-on development that Microsoft launched last July and that Somasegar says has been updated on a weekly basis.
The tools are available as a free download, but to deploy apps to the Office Store a developer must have an Office 365 Developer Subscription. That ordinarily costs $99 per year, but Somasegar said on Monday that Microsoft has added a one-year subscription as a free benefit for Visual Studio Ultimate and Visual Studio Premium with MSDN subscribers.
In other words, there may not be many customers for Office Store add-ons yet – and, seemingly, even fewer ideas for them – but at least they're cheap to build. ®
Cool, I suppose. But, uhm...
To be honest I have to admit that the integration of Office development within Visual Studio 2012 is actually pretty slick, that is of course if you're into this kind of thing. Which I am, sort off. I got VS2012 Professional, the Office SDK is a free download and then all you need is a version of Office installed.
The thing is; wouldn't it make more sense to start by fixing our interface and feature set before adding new "cool" stuff ?
Many VS2012 developers are anxiously awaiting VS2012 Update 2 which, among several other bugs, also fixes bugs with the (hastily) released blue theme in the theme editor. Sometimes you get black letters on a dark blue background. Which really isn't all that easy to read; and according to the update description its something Microsoft has also come to realize.
But there's more... Microsoft wants us to use their tools to make cool apps. But at the same time they also want to prevent us from doing so.. Sounds strange? Read on..
One of the tools in their discontinued Expression series is Microsoft Blend; a tool which you can use to make "dynamic interfaces" (to put it easy; more info on the website). But, as mentioned, its discontinued and instead embedded with VS2012. You can see on the site itself; instead of being able to download Blend you're pointed at downloading Visual Studio.
And there's the problem; at the moment of writing there is only a Blend version for Windows Phone development or Windows 8 ('app') development. People new to VS2012 who want to utilize Blend for Silverlight or WPF editing are pretty much out of luck; Blend as a stand alone product is gone and there is no full integration with VS2012 as of yet.
There is, however, the previously mentioned upcoming update 2. One of its feature enhancements is Blend for Visual Studio 2012: "Support for Sketchflow, WPF, and Silverlight". All good and well; but what about people who need this tool right now? Well, as said they are out of luck: because if you read closely the update is merely a so called Community Technology Preview (CTP). Put differently: this is merely for testing purposes only, the Team Foundation Server update is the only part which has gotten a "go-live" remark. You're not supposed to use this VS2012 CTP update in a production environment.
So basically Microsoft dumped a tool (Microsoft Blend) while stating that Visual Studio 2012 would be the new all-in-one solution which would provide Blend functionality yet hasn't managed to release it just yet.
Just like they did with Expression Web (mentioned on that same Expression website). VS2012 is supposed to provide all you need for website design / editing. Well; at the time of writing you're IMO better off using Expression Web for your web design where VS2012 can come in handy with programming the underlying logic. It does not provide the same functionality right now.
So summing up: a half-baked interface (don't get me started on the colour removal!) combined with an as-of-yet unfinished feature set. Where people currently using VS2010 (with or without extra "supporting" tools) have a fully complete and functional programming environment.
And they're wondering what is keeping all those developers to embrace these shiney new tools?
So is this about making Office better or MS just wants us to switch tools for a new LOCK-IN?
Follow-on comment from the NEW EXTENSIONS link :-
When I want to develop stuff for my Office environment all I have to do is either open up whatever program supports VBA and start coding. Or if I want to build external stuff I simply pick up VS Express and get to it.
All for free.
What El Reg doesn't mention is that "signing up for an Office 365 developer pass" is only free during the Office 2013 preview. You can see as much here (MSDN Office page).
So in the near future you'll need to cough up some big bucks if you wish to develop stuff for the new Office."
But you don't. Anyone can write for the desktop.
And since absolutely everyone in the entire world hates metro and metro apps (according to the commentards, so it MUST be true), that's all you need, right?