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What’s new in Office add-ins + IT admin and deployment updates

Heading into the last day of Build 2016, we take a look at what the updates to the Office extensibility model and Office add-ins mean for IT admins. Jeremy Thake highlights new capabilities announced at Build for both developers and users while demonstrating new deployment options to get add-ins to users directly from the Office 365 admin portal.

Yesterday at Build 2016, Qi Lu announced three new Office-specific opportunities for developers:

  • Enhancements to the Microsoft Graph that can be used to build smarter business solutions.
  • Improvements to the add-in model, including support for Office for Mac 2016, centralized deployment and programmatic creation of solution-specific ribbons and buttons.
  • New extensibility features for Skype and Office 365 Groups.

To find out more about what’s new for developers, read Kirk Koenigsbauer’s post from yesterday.

While the updates are mostly specific to developers, what do the updates announced yesterday mean for Office 365 admins?

Centralized deployment is typically an IT admin task. If you’re tasked with deploying Windows and Office to your users, then chances are you’ll want to customize the desktop environment with add-ins, personalization or security policies without relying on users themselves to load add-ins or configure Office.

The Office add-in model for COM add-ins has been around for a long time, and developers of those add-ins tend to deliver those as .EXE or .MSI installation files. This is often done in order to use software distribution systems—like Microsoft Intune or System Center Configuration Manager—to deploy add-ins as part of a customized Office environment.

There are a few challenges with the COM add-in deployment model that we solved with the new model:

  • Deployment is usually targeted at a device, not a user.
  • Getting add-in experiences to users often requires software distribution systems, where devices need to be enrolled into the management system.
  • Updating and managing add-ins can be challenging when changes are needed.

The new Office add-in model itself solves the update problem by moving client-side operations either to the cloud or a privately hosted service. When updates are needed, the updates can be done centrally against the service that powers the add-in or via the Office 365 admin portal.

The new centralized deployment model with Office add-ins also solves for the other two challenges, by enabling admins to target deployment to specific users or groups and eliminating the need for software distribution systems to deploy these new add-ins. You can now upload add-in files and distribute them to your users from the Office 365 admin portal. The centralized deployment model is particularly powerful when you consider that people are using devices they often own themselves and may not want to connect to management systems. What actually gets distributed is a small .XML file, which Office apps can easily discover and load when Word, Excel or PowerPoint launches.

Developers also have new options to make the user experience with add-ins more familiar by placing Office add-ins on the ribbon or enabling right-click functionality within the apps. Office apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint are connected and can automatically load add-ins, removing the requirements for users to discover or install add-ins themselves. These updates make it easier for both IT admins and developers to ensure users benefit from Office add-in experiences.

In the show, Jeremy Thake and I demonstrate all of these new experiences—from both the admin and user perspectives. We also show new capabilities with Office 365 Connectors and how you can integrate your team collaboration experience with third party services—like we demonstrated today with Zendesk.

These new experiences are rolling out in First Release now if you want to start evaluating the admin experiences. For developers, the Office Dev Center has the resources to get you started with building new add-ins.

—Jeremy Chapman

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