Office isn't just about documents – it'll help order your morning coffee

Introduction and Microsoft Graph

Office isn’t just the familiar programs like Outlook and Word, and the services like Exchange Online and Skype for Business. It’s also a platform that you can run other apps and services on, like the Starbucks app that lets you send someone a Starbucks gift card right inside Outlook, or find a specific Starbucks and use it as a location in your calendar (you get a map and a link to pre-order coffee but they won’t reserve you a table).

“Office is about making people more productive,” explained Rob Howard, who’s the director of the Office 365 ecosystem. “As the nature of productivity has changed, moving into cloud and the mobile world, Office as a set of apps and services has evolved to address that.

“It’s always been the case that you could come into Excel and write a little code to tailor it to the needs of your business, but we’ve had to reimagine what Office looks like as a platform to make it available to cloud and mobile developers.”

Now developers can use HTML, CSS and JavaScript to write Office add-ins that work with not just the Windows versions of the Office programs, but also the Office Online web apps and Office on iPad – and now on OS X as well. “Support for Office 2016 for Mac is a big step for us,” Howard told techradar pro, adding that as well as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, developers will soon be able to create add-ins for OneNote.

Add-ins can access a wide range of information and connections from the Microsoft Graph

Microsoft Graph

Those add-ins can look like part of Office – they can already create task panes and now, Howard notes, “you can create new ribbons, new buttons for the ribbon and context menus”. And as well as working on Mac and in OneNote, add-ins now get access to more features using the Microsoft Graph.

The Graph APIs let an add-in get objects from Office such as documents, emails, calendar appointments, tasks, conversations in Groups and even out of office messages, as well as connections like documents that you’re working on and the people you’re working with.

That means when you use the Docusign service to send and sign contracts and other official documents, it can use your Office address book to look up the email address for your contacts – you only need to type in part of the name to get a match, the way you would in Outlook. It can even find names when you make spelling mistakes.

Add-ins work in Office on Windows and iPad – and now on the Mac too

And if the first person you send a document to for signing has an out of office message, Docusign can show you that straight away so you can send it to someone else, instead of having to go back to the service to resend it once the out of office message shows up in your email.

Those APIs now cover the consumer Outlook service as well as Office 365, and there’s a new set of intelligence APIs that suggest things like “the best time for a group of users to meet, the documents that are more relevant to a topic or the people who are most relevant to a given topic,” explained Howard.

Making connections

Convenience of Connectors

The Connectors feature means add-ins don’t have to wait for the user to click on something. “We’re adding support for webhooks [a way of sending information between cloud services] so add-ins can respond in real-time to changes to data.” You can already use Connectors with Groups today, so when someone posts a question on Stack Overflow, or asks for a new feature on User Voice, or checks in code on GitHub or submits a support request on Zendesk, that information can show up in a Group automatically.

Get a message in your Office 365 Group from services as well as people

Instead of just getting a message from a service like Salesforce through a connector, you can reply to it and take an action. That’s a very basic first step towards the conversations that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked about at the Build conference last week, and at the moment it’s much more similar to the way Slack bots can add information to a channel automatically.

The list of 52 services includes development tools like Subversion, marketing tools like MailChimp, admin services like PagerDuty and Pivotal Tracker and a good many developer services like Asana, Crashlytics, Subversion and Bugsnag.

Howard said Microsoft is looking at where else Connectors could post information apart from Groups – some people might prefer to see it in their inbox instead, for example.

You can see more details for a Connector message on the service or reply to it from Groups

Control aplenty

Because add-ins get to see the information in your Office 365 tenant or Outlook account, Microsoft is giving companies plenty of controls. “Admins can deploy add-ins to users so when you log in to Office you get the functionality your admin has picked for you to get your work done,” said Howard.

“We will also have more tools for businesses to give the admins control over what add-ins can be used in their organisation. Tenant admins have full control of what add-ins have access to their data; if you trust a software vendor you can grant access and rescind it later. The user has the same control when they connect to their own data. An app has to request what level of data it wants to access and users can remove access as well.”

The Office add-ins that your business might already be using today will carry on working for a long time, he promised. “There is a huge amount of intellectual property and business processes that run on those and we won’t be removing support for that functionality any time soon.”

But don’t expect to see them work unchanged on other versions of Office. “The new add-in model is the way we can take functionality across other platforms in a more seamless way,” said Howard – they’ll have to be rewritten, but then they’ll work in Office on more and more devices.

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