App store maximizes manageability of Microsoft Office applications

One of the things that makes Microsoft Office 2013 truly useful is the fact that its functionality can be extended through the use of apps. Microsoft provides an app store for Office, similar to the Windows Store.

One of the first things you need to know about Microsoft Office apps is that not every app works with every Microsoft Office application. Some apps tend to be general-purpose, while others are designed specifically for a particular Office application.

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Task-pane apps tend to be the most flexible. They work by opening up a task pane on the right side of an Office application. You can interact with the apps through this task pane. This type of app generally works with the 2013 versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Project Professional.

Apps that are specifically designed for Excel 2013 are typically referred to as content apps. These apps get embedded directly into a worksheet and become part of the worksheet. If a user receives a worksheet and then emails it to someone else, the app goes with it.

There are also apps that are specific to Outlook 2013. These apps typically also require Outlook to be connected to Exchange Server to function. Outlook 2013 apps (which are sometimes called Mail Apps) are typically designed to embed business data into email messages.

Other Outlook apps simply display business data in Outlook. For example, there is a Package Tracker app that you can use to keep track of packages that are being delivered.

Deploying Office apps

In order to deploy an app into Office, you will need a Microsoft account so you can access the app store. Begin the process by opening a Microsoft Office application. I am basing these instructions on Microsoft Word, but the procedure should be very similar for other Office applications.

Next, go to the Insert tab and then click the Apps for Office icon, located on the task bar, as shown in Figure 1. When the drop-down menu appears, select the See All option.

The task bar contains the Apps for Office dropdown menu.Figure 1: Click the Apps for Office icon.

At this point, you may see a message telling you that you need to sign into Office. If you receive such a message, click the Sign In link and then enter your credentials. After signing in, you should see a screen similar to the one shown in Figure 2.

You can view apps for Office on this screen.Figure 2: This screen is used to view your apps.

As you can see in the figure above, there are a couple of options on this screen. One option is Manage My Apps. Clicking this option brings about a webpage showing your app collection for Office and SharePoint. The other link allows you to find apps in the Office store.

To deploy an app, simply locate it within the Office store and then click the Add button, as shown in Figure 3. Doing so brings up another webpage that displays a description of the app. From here, you can click Add, followed by Continue to deploy the app.

Install Microsoft Office applications with the Add button.Figure 3: Click the Add button to begin the installation process.

Accessing Microsoft Office applications

Accessing and using your apps is easy. If you look back at Figure 2, you will notice an Insert button. If you select an app and then click the Insert button, the app will launch. You can see an example of a task pane app that I have launched in Figure 4.

The Office 2013 app runs in this screen.Figure 4: This is what an app looks like when it runs.

Group Policy settings

Most administrators probably don't want users indiscriminately installing apps. Fortunately, you can use Group Policy settings to block access to the app store or to require users to get apps from your own app catalog, which can be based on SharePoint, Exchange or a file share.

Group Policy settings are included within the Office 2013 administrative templates, and the app-related settings are located at User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Microsoft Office 2013\Security Settings\Trust Center\Trusted Catalogs.

As you can see, apps can greatly extend the functionality of Office 2013. Even so, you might not want to allow your users to have free rein over the app store. Fortunately, you can use Group Policy settings to redirect users to an in-house app catalog containing only apps that you have approved.

This was first published in March 2014

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