Outlook Add-Ins

If your users spend a lot of time in Microsoft Office (specifically Outlook) then you should consider augmenting your software and investing in Outlook Add-In development. There are a few different forms of the Outlook Add-In, but the one I am going to discuss today is the type that appears in “command surfaces” in Outlook. Broadly this is an Add-In that appears in a narrow pane to the right hand side of an email (or appointment) that someone is reading.

outlook-add-in

Design Considerations

The Outlook Add-In pane is narrow. You don’t have a lot of space and currently, Microsoft don’t provide the ability to adjust the size of the pane. This means that you should provide a small range of functions in your Add-In that are focused on achieving limited, specific and useful goals. For more advanced operations, you can provide a button that opens up your main application in the correct context (e.g. a button that opens your CRM system at a customer record that matches the email you are reading).

Technical Considerations

Outlook Add-Ins work in both web-based Outlook (Office 365) and inside “on-premise” Outlook (i.e. the version you install on your computer). On-Premise Outlook 2016 will use Internet Explorer 11 for rendering your Add-In. It is important to consider this when choosing technologies to develop your Add-In!

Microsoft’s preferred approach to user interface technology for Outlook Add-Ins is React (using Typescript). A complete set of UI components is provided to simplify development, so this is the recommended approach. You can also use basic HTML, CSS and JavaScript, but the support is limited to basic style sheets. Finally, you can use AngularJS, but this is a dying technology, so it is recommended that you stay away from it.

If you are developing an Outlook Add-In, then there is a good change that you are going to be working on some kind of integrated authentication with Azure Active Directory. Microsoft provide a lot of support for this, but there are still a lot of poorly documented technical challenges to overcome that are too arcane for this blog post! In future, we may provide a complete tutorial for Outlook Add-In developers to get them started.

You are probably also going to want to use Microsoft’s Graph and/or EWS APIs with your Add-In. EWS is deprecated, but it is still necessary as not all operations are currently supported in the new Graph API yet.

Conclusion

Although conceptually simple, creating a working, useful Outlook Add-In that integrates with Exchange and Azure Active Directory is a complex and difficult task.

McKenna Consultants has a wealth of experience in creating Add-Ins and software platforms for clients shown through our case studies.

If you would like McKenna Consultants to handle your Outlook Add-In development or any software development you require, then please fill in the form below to get in touch with us.

Nick McKenna
Since 2004, Nick McKenna, BSc, MBCS Biography has been the CEO of McKenna Consultants. McKenna Consultants is a bespoke software development based in North Yorkshire, specialising in Cloud development, mobile App development, progressive web App development, systems integration and the Internet of Things development. Nick also holds a First Class Degree in Computer Science (BSc) and wrote his first computer program at the age of nine, on a BBC Micro Model B computer. For the last 21 years, Nick has been a professional computer programmer and software architecture. Nick’s technical expertise includes; Net Core, C#, Microsoft Azure, Asp.Net, RESTful web services, eProcurement, Swift, iOS mobile development, Java, Android mobile development, C++, Internet Of Things and more. In addition, Nick is experienced in Agile coaching, training and consultancy, applying modern Agile management techniques to marketing and running McKenna Consultants, as well as the development of software for clients. Nick is a Certified Enterprise Coach (Scrum Alliance), SAFe Program Consultant (SAI), Certified LeSS Practitioner (LeSS) and Certified Scrum@Scale Practitioner. Outside the office, Nick is a professional scuba diver and he holds the rank of Black Belt 5th Dan in Karate.