PowerPoint 2013 for Developers: Conversation with Jamie Garroch

Friday, August 17, 2012
posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 11:14 AM IST


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Jamie GarrochJamie Garroch, CEO of GMARK Ltd., founded the company in 2009 to provide presentation professionals with PowerPoint software, content and training. Jamie uses PowerPoint for most of his graphic needs — for everything from designing logos to creating web banners and even printed marketing collaterals. He also uses PowerPoint as a programming environment to create custom programming procedures and PowerPoint add-ins.

In this conversation, Jamie discusses what the upcoming PowerPoint 2013 offers developers, and about the rumours that apps will replace add-ins soon.

Geetesh: Office 2013 seems to be adding several new options for PowerPoint developers -– can you share some thoughts?

Jamie: The biggest change for developers in the Office 2013 Preview the addition of what Microsoft are calling “apps for Office”. This shouldn’t be confused with add-ins as the two are very distinct in both their purpose and development implementation. Apps for Office are essentially web applications and they offer some amazing new potential for developers familiar with web based environments such as XML, HTML, CSS, JavaScript and more. With the technology comes a new business model where apps can be published in a new Microsoft Store (making Office Marketplace obsolete), in exchange for 20% commission (the developer gets 80%) which is pretty generous compared with other stores.

But there’s a snag. For an as yet unknown reason, PowerPoint 2013 Preview is not supporting any of this even if Excel and Word are!

So, the answer for PowerPoint developers is much simpler as we can only deal with the topic of ‘traditional’ add-ins. Microsoft provide seven new features for add-in developers on their new MSDN page, and since Steve Rindsberg has commented on four of them in this conversation, I’m going to pick these two:

  1. Theme Manipulation: There are a lot of new additions here that will allow developers to build add-ins that can open, edit and apply Themes. Recall that Theme files (.THMX) work across Office suite programs and help define a global visual style to documents. You could conceive an add-in that opens a Theme file, provides the user with the ability to graphically browse the various Theme variants in the Theme file (half are 16:9 format in PowerPoint 2013 and the other half 4:3), edits one or more elements of the Theme (color, fonts, effects) and then applies the selection to the current presentation or any other presentation on disk.
  2. Shape Events: Events allow developers to run pre-defined code when that event happens. The simplest type of event we can imagine when a user clicks a mouse but other invisible events are happening all the time in the background such as an event that fires when a presentation is opened or just before it’s saved. One of the two new events, the .AfterShapeSizeChange event does exactly what it says in that it fires when a user changes the size of a shape in the slide edit mode. This could be used to trigger code to validate the change against a set of design rules for a corporate template (we often see people changing the size of a title placeholder or text box to try to squeeze more text on a slide!).

Geetesh: What’s all this talk about the new Office apps replacing add-ins? Will add-ins continue to work in PowerPoint 2013?

Jamie: Apps for Office are not a replacement for add-ins but Microsoft’s way of extending the power of the Office suite to enable rich web based applications. Let me take the analogy of a car. First we had wind down windows (excuse the pun!) to to keep us cool and then came air-con but air-con didn’t replace the window, it complemented it and we still need both.

In the same way, add-ins provide developers with a great way to extend the functionality of the Office suite program itself, such as making it easier to align and position shapes, or converting presentations to other formats. Add-ins often build on the core Microsoft feature set of the Office client (the software that you install on your computer; PowerPoint, Word, Excel etc.) by adding new custom Ribbon tabs, groups and buttons which providing access to features Microsoft don’t want or need to develop.

Conversely, web apps (not on your computer but in the cloud) will allow developers to make it much easier for an Office suite program to garner the power of the web, to interact with services previously very complex to implement in the add-in model. For example, let’s say you’re creating a document and you need a map of the world or a vector image of an animal. You might try the built in Microsoft picture features but you may also subscribe to an online service which provides just the right vector graphics you’re looking for, without having to open up your web browser. In this case, it makes much more sense for the app to communicate with a service in the cloud rather than being ‘static’ on your computer.

For now, PowerPoint 2013 has been left out in the cold but my guess is it’s just been a question of priorities and apps for Office will come in a future upgrade, maybe even within an Office Service Pack.

But whatever happens, add-ins are here to stay and will continue to sit well alongside their new sibling, web apps. And just in case there’s any doubt, we’ve already tested our add-ins with PowerPoint 2013 Preview and all is working well.

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