Episode 269

JSJ 268 Building Microsoft Office Extensions with JavaScript with Tristan Davis and Sean Laberee


July 4th, 2017

1 hr 7 mins 27 secs

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About this Episode

JSJ 268 Building Microsoft Office Extensions with Javascript with Tristan Davis and Sean Laberee

This episode is live at the Microsoft Build 2017 with Charles Max Wood and AJ O’Neal. We have Tristan Davis and Sean Laberee from the Office Team at Microsoft. Tune in and learn more about what’s new with Microsoft Office Extensions!

[00:01:25] – Introduction to Tristan Davis and Sean Laberee

Tristan Davis and Sean Laberee are Program Managers on the Microsoft Office team, focused on Extensibility.

Questions for Tristan and Sean

[00:01:45] – Extending Office functionality with Javascript

Office isn’t just an application on Windows that runs on your PC. It is running on iPhone, iPad, Android tablet, and apps on the browser with Office Online. The team needs a new platform, add-ins, which allow you to build apps that run across all places. It’s HTML and Javascript. HTML for all the UI and a series of Javascript module calls for the document properties. Sometimes we call it OfficeJS.

[00:03:20] – This works on any version of Office?

It works on Office on Windows, Mac, Online and iPad.

[00:03:55] – HTML and CSS suck on mobile?

There are things that you’re going to want to do when you know you’re running on a mobile device. If you look at an add-in running on Outlook for iPhone, the developer does a lot of things to make that feel like part of the iPhone UI. Tristan believes that you could build a great add-in for Office using HTML and JavaScript.

[00:05:20] – Are these apps written with JavaScript or you have a Native with WebView?

Office itself is Native. All of it is Native code but the platform is very much web. The main piece of it is pointing at the URL. Just go load that URL. And then, you can also call functions in your JavaScript.

[00:06:35] – Why would you do this? How does it work?

The add-in platform is a way to help developers turn Word, Excel and PowerPoint into the apps that actually solve user’s business problems. The team will give you the tools with HTML and JavaScript to go and pop into the Word UI and the API’s that let you go manipulate the paragraph and texts inside of Word. Or in Excel, you might want to create custom formulas or visualizations. The team also let people use D3 to generate their own Excel charts.

And developers want to extend Office because it’s where a lot of business workers spend their days 0 in Outlook, Teams, Word, Excel.

[00:10:00] – How did this get delivered to them?

There are 2 ways to get this delivered. One, there’s an Office Store. Second, if you go into Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, there’s a store button and you can see tons of integrations with partners.

For enterprises, IT can deploy add-ins to the users’ desktops without having stress about deploying MSI’s and other software deployments that the web completely rids off. The add-ins make a whole lot of pain the past completely go away.

[00:11:00] – Everybody in the company can use a particular plug-in by distributing it with Office?

That’s right. You can go to Office 365 add-in experience. Here’s the add-in and you can to specific people or everyone who’s part of a group.

For the developer’s perspective, if you have the add-in deployed to your client, you could actually push updates to the web service and your users get the updates instantly. It’s a lot faster turn-around model.

[00:14:20] – What about conversations or bot integrations?

There’s the idea of connectors at Teams. You can subscribe to this web book and it’ll publish JSON. When the JSON is received, a new conversation inside of Teams or Outlook will be created. For example, every time someone posts on Stack Overflow with one of the tags that team cares about, it posts on Outlook.

It’s a great way to bring all the stuff. Rather than have 20 different apps that are shooting 20 different sets of notifications, it’s just all conversations in email, making do all the standard email things.

And in the connector case, it’s a push model. The user could choose what notifications they want.

You’d also learn things like bots. You can have bots in Teams and Skype. The users can interact with them with their natural language.

[00:18:40] – How about authentication?

As long as you’re signed into Office, you can call JavaScript API to give you an identity token for the sign in user and it will hand you a JWT back. That’s coming from Azure Active Directory or from whatever customer directory service. That’s standard.

If you want to do more, you can take that identity token and you can exchange that for a token that can call Microsoft graph. This app wants to get access to phone, are you okay with that? Assuming the user says yes, the user gets a token that can go and grab whatever data he wants from the back-end.

[00:20:00] – Where does it store the token?

That’s up to the developer to decide how they want to handle that but there are facilities that make sure you can pop up a dialog box and you can go to the LO-flow. You could theoretically cache it in the browser or a cookie. Or whatever people think is more appropriate for the scenario.

[00:20:55] – What does the API actually look like from JavaScript?

If you’re familiar with Excel UI, you can look at Excel API. It’s workbook.worksheets.getItem() and you can pass the name of the worksheet. It can also pass the index of the worksheet.

[00:22:30] – What’s the process of getting setup?

There’s a variety of options. You can download Office, write XML manifest, and take a sample, and then, side loads it into Office. You can also do that through web apps. There’s no install required because you can go work against Office Online. In the Insert menu, there’s a way to configure your add-ins. There’s upload a manifest there and you can just upload the XML. That’s going to work against whatever web server you have set up.

So it’s either on your local machine or up in the cloud. It’s as much as like regular web development. Just bring your own tools.

[00:24:15] – How do you protect me as a plug-in developer?

There’s an access add-in that will ask your permission to access, say, a document. Assume, they say yes, pipes are opened and they can just go talk to those things. But the team also tries to sandbox it by iframes. It’s not one page that has everybody’s plug-ins intermingle that people can pole at other people’s stuff.

[00:27:20] – How do you support backward compatibility?

There are cases where we change the behavior of the API. Every API is gated by requirement set. So if a developer needs access to a requirement set, he gets an aggregate instead of API’s that he can work with but it isn’t fixed forever.

But it’s not at that point yet where we end up to remove things completely. In Office JS, we’ve talked about API’s as one JavaScript library but really, it’s a bootstrap that brings in a bunch of other pieces that you need.

[00:30:00] – How does that work on mobile? Do they have to approve download for all components?

You can download components by using the browser that the operating system gives. It’s another one of the virtues of being based on the web. Every platform that has a web browser can have JavaScript execution run-time. It allows for the way that their app guidelines are written.

[00:33:15] – How about testing?

It’s a place where there’s still have work to do. There’s a bunch of open-source projects that partners have started to do that. What they’ve done is they’ve built a testing library. Whatever the mock is, it's just a thing on Github. It is open-source friendly. So the team could be able to contribute to it. “Here’s an interesting test case for this API. I want to make sure that it behaves like this.

[00:35:50] – Could you write it with any version for JavaScript e.g. TypeScript?

A Huge chunk of the team is big TypeScript fans. They’ve done a lot of work to make sure that TypeScript experience is excellence.

Type is basically a collection of typing files for TypeScript. There’s a runtime process that parses your TypeScript, gives you feedback on your code, and checks for errors. You can also run it in the background.

There’s an add-in called Script Lab. Script Lab is literally, you hit the code button and you get a web IDE right there. You can go start typing JavaScript code, play with API’s, and uses TypeScript by default. It’ll just actually load your code in the browser, executes, and you can start watching.

[00:39:25] – Are there any limitations on which JavaScript libraries you can pull in?

There a no limitations in place right now. There are partners that use Angular. There are partners that are big React fans. If you’re a web dev, you can bring whatever preferences around frameworks, around tools, around TypeScript versus JavaScript.

[00:45:20] – What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen done with this API?

Battleship was pretty cool. There’s also Star Wars entering credits theme for PowerPoint.

[00:46:40] – If a developer is building a plug-in and get paid for it, does Microsoft take credit for that?

There are 2 ways that folks can do it. You can do paid add-ins to the store. Either you do the standard perpetual 99 cents or you can do subscriptions, where it’s $2.99/month. Tristan encourages that model because integrations are just a piece of some larger piece of software.

But Microsoft is not in the business of trying to get you to pay me a little bit of 10 cents a dollar. It’s really in the business of making sure that you can integrate with Office as quickly as possibly can.

When the users go to the store, they can use the same Microsoft account that you use to buy Xbox games or movies in the Xbox, Windows apps in the Windows store.

[00:52:00] – The App Model

If folks are interested in the app model, they should go to dev.office.com to learn more about it because that’s where all the documentation is. Check out our Github. Right there in the open, there’s the spec. Literally, the engineers who are coding the product are reading the same marked-down files in the same repo that you, as a developer, can come and look at. And you can comment. You can add issues like you could have a dialogue with that PM. Under the OfficeDev, you’ll find a tunnel repository that contains samples. Our docs are there.


AJ O'Neal

  • Lithium

Charles Max Wood

Tristan Davis

Sean Laberee