Microsoft's 'Napa': Tools for building apps for the new Office, SharePoint

Developers who want to sell their add-in applications in the coming Office Store may want to check out the preview of Microsoft's newest toolset.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft released on July 17 a preview build of a new toolset codenamed "Napa," which is aimed at those building application add-ins for the coming versions of Office and SharePoint.


The Office 365 development tools (Napa) are designed to accommodate the "new Cloud App Model" in the more cloud-centric Office 15 wave of products, according to a new blog post from Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jason Zander. This new model allows apps to be hosted on SharePoint, Windows Azure Web sites or a user's own server.
The new Office apps and add-ins -- which are codenamed "Agaves" -- can be hosted in the cloud and/or published and sold through the new Office Store. Enterprise IT users also can be privately distribute Napa-developed apps via an internal App Catalog, Zander noted.

Microsoft's definition of Office apps is worth noting. A new MSDN article about Office Apps explains:
"An app for Office is basically a webpage that is hosted inside an Office client application. You can use an app for Office to extend the functionality of a document, email message, meeting request, or appointment. Apps for Office can run in multiple environments and clients, including rich Office desktop clients, Office Web Apps, mobile browsers, and also on-premises and in the cloud. After you develop and publish your apps for Office to the Office Store or to an onsite catalog, they will be available to consumers from their Office 2013 Preview applications."
"We wanted to provide a lightweight, in-browser experience, so that you could quickly build your SharePoint or Office web app in the same browser where they would run," Zander blogged.
Napa is going to be a free development-environment app for SharePoint, and is meant to be "an online companion to Visual Studio," Zander explained. Because Napa is Web-based, developers won't need to install anything on their machines; they'll be able to start coding inside their browsers. But if and when Office developers need more "advanced" tools, they will be able to switch to Visual Studio 2012 and continue their work in that IDE, he said.


"Of course, in parallel with 'Napa,' you can still continue using the existing extensibility models for Office and SharePoint, like VBA, COM, VSTO, and SharePoint solutions," Zander said. However -- and this is key -- apps developed using these tools will not be able to be submitted to the new Office Store, Zander added.
As is the case with Windows 8, Microsoft is hoping and encouraging developers to write their next-genearation apps using HTML5, XML, CSS3, JavaScript, and REST APIs.
Napa will allow the development of "all of the app types for Office and SharePoint allowing developers to run in both the web app and rich client versions of the Office applications (i.e. Excel, Word)," Zander said.

Microsoft launched a preview of the coming Office Store on July 16.  There already are two dozen Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013 add-ins in the store, including ones for Twitter, LinkedIn, dictionaries, forms and more.

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