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Microsoft offers developer tools for its lonely Office Store

Visual Studio kit for building Office add-ons exits preview

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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 tools allow developers to create Office add-ons using the suite's new extension model, introduced in Office 2013 and the latest version of Office 365, in which coders create Office extensions using HTML, JavaScript, and other web standards, rather than Windows-centric technologies such as Visual Basic and ActiveX.

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. ®

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