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The ability to develop for Office 365 isn't new

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April 22, 2016

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says-- "For the first time we are opening up Office 365 not just as an end-user and an enterprise tool, but as a developer platform."

He said that yesterday at a Wall Street earnings call. Despite Nadella's comment the ability to develop for Office 365 isn't new however, though it is significantly enhanced following announcements at the Microsoft Build developer conference at the end of March.

But for Microsoft, there is some strategic sense in promoting Office as a web platform, adding value for those customers who have already signed up to Office 365.

What is Microsoft Office? The answer used to be Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and a few other specialist applications like Access, Publisher, Project and Visio, all of which ran best on the Windows desktop and some of which were also available on the Mac.

But today Microsoft means something different, especially in the context of Office as a platform. Office 365 is built around hosted Exchange, SharePoint, and the directory service called Azure Active Directory.

It is the obvious destination for businesses tired of running their own Exchange server, and while Google and more recently Amazon are grabbing some of that market share, plenty is still going Microsoft's way.

According to figures presented at Build, there are over 50,000 new Office 365 small businesses per month, and the trend could be increasing faster than what some people think.

There are still many Microsoft Office users who do not use Office 365, or even on-premises Exchange and SharePoint, but only a subset of the "Office platform" is available to them.

That said, there is an option for individuals to use personal Outlook.com and OneDrive as a kind of light version of Office 365, and one of the announcements at Build was about a new unified API for business and personal users.

This increasing cloud-dependency is not just Microsoft's attempt to hook more users into its web platform, but also a reflection of the greater potential for integrating services.

So you might ask, what does the Office platform look like today? The starting point is the application suite itself, which now runs tolerably well on iOS and Android as well as Mac and Windows.

There is also a Universal version, for Windows 10 in all its forms, including HoloLens augmented reality headsets.

Office on Windows still supports old-style extensibility via Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), COM add-ins and more. But since Office 2013 Microsoft has been pushing developers towards a new web-based add-in model.

This type of add-in is essentially a web application, hosted anywhere, that is surfaced in an Office application and can interact with it via JavaScript libraries. These add-ins can have a user interface via a "task pane" in some Office applications.

Source: Microsoft.

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