tsJensen

A quest for software excellence...

Office Outlook Add-In Development

I’ve long been interested in building add-ins for Microsoft Office but every time I’ve started to dive into it, I’ve been repelled by the challenges of understanding the Office COM interfaces and dealing with multiple versions of Office, especially for Outlook add-ins.

All of that may be about to change. I just ran into Add-In-Express.com, a tool vendor that for whatever reason I’ve not come across until now. From what I’ve seen on their web site, I’m very impressed.

With a single VS 2010 project template, you can now create an Office add-in with wrapper support for multiple Office products and multiple versions all from one unified library.

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They do not offer a 30-day trial, so this is a blatant attempt to convince them to give me a reviewer’s copy to install and experiment on.

My primary attraction to this toolset is that I’m not a fan of writing tedious routine plumbing code to deal with multiple versions of a product upon which my software will need to be used. This is also the primary reason I’ve avoided delving into Office add-in development beyond reaching that initial level of prohibitive frustration.

I’m particularly interested in the following feature sets and should I be granted an reviewer’s license or if not and I can scrounge up the scratch for a license, I will be putting these to the test in a rewrite and expansion of a time tracking tool that I wrote as a stand alone WinForms app about nine years ago.

Features to check out list:

  • Version neutrality—many of the users for whom I write software are institutionally stuck on old versions of Microsoft Office. They have no choice but I still need to deliver a solution to them.
  • Context sensitive toolbars and ribbons for Outlook—my primary target for an add-in host, every time I’ve read about or talked with developers who deal with writing their own multi-version plumbing, I walk away from the notion of writing the Outlook add-in I’m thinking of. I really want to see if this tool can help me overcome my fears.
  • Visual designers—one of the most exciting aspects that I want to explore in this product is the visual designers for the ribbon UI, toolbars, options and folders properties dialogs, and especially the form and view regions for Outlook.
  • Smart Tags designer—I am keenly interested in natural language processing and enhancing the utility of email by analyzing text for keywords and other language constructs and then providing context aware actions directly from the Smart Tag to allow the user to take an action that might otherwise require multiple steps from multiple applications.

If you have had any experience with this toolset, I’d like to hear from you. As soon as I’m able to get my hands on it, I will begin posting my experiences with the tool as well as deployable examples from my evaluation and experimentation.