Users running Microsoft Excel, Word and other Office 2013 applications will be able to try or buy companion apps from an integrated app store, without leaving the application. The new Apps For Office apps will run in both desktop and web-based versions of Office. Companies will also be able to use the app store feature to distribute companion programs developed in-house.
"We're creating a market opportunity for developers," said PJ Hough, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Office division. "This is a significant win for developers, and for our customers."
Hough, speaking at the launch of the Office 2013 technical preview in San Francisco today (Monday), said apps would provide Office programs with extensibility and "reinvigorate Office as a platform".
Hough showed a LinkedIn app that, when added to Outlook, enabled users to check someone's profile while answering an email.
Apps For Office will enable users to personalise their Office applications to make them do what they want, and will enable companies to customise Office.
Microsoft hopes that developers will find a profitable market by selling apps to a claimed billion users of Microsoft Office, but did not explain how the app store would work commercially. This was a technical preview, Hough said.
Microsoft is promoting the idea through it's MSDN Developer Network: Build apps for Office and SharePoint.
At a presentation earlier in the day, Kirk Koenigsbauer, another corporate vice president in Microsoft's Office division, pointed out that the "new Office developer model" also enabled developers to build web-based applications -- including Azure applications -- that could be "consumed" inside Office. As an example, he showed adding Bing maps to an email. This feature had been leaked earlier under its Agave codename.
Apps For Office could be a winning strategy, if it works. Users benefit from Office's extensibility, developers make money, and Microsoft wins because having lots of useful apps would increase the propensity to stick with Office rather than try rival platforms. However, these things don't always work: gadgets on Windows Vista and Windows 7 being an example.
Still, at least Apps For Office will provide an attractive alternative to VBA, and make Office programming more accessible to web developers.