Microsoft Releases Office 365 Add-In Deployment Capability

Office add-ins can now be centrally deployed to end users thanks to the newly launched Microsoft's Office 365 Centralized Deployment service.

Office add-ins are applications built by Microsoft or other software developers that run inside Office apps. The new service simplifies the distribution of Office add-ins, since end users will simply open Excel, PowerPoint or Word and see in the application's ribbon menu that the add-ins are available. Organizations can also use this service to install custom-built Office add-ins.

The Centralized Deployment service was first launched in preview form late last year, but now it's at "general availability" status, according to Microsoft's announcement.

IT pros get access to the Centralized Deployment service via the Office Admin Center. Alternatively, they can run PowerShell scripts to install the add-ins across an organization. Microsoft provides documentation for using the new service at this page, where the recommended approach is to try it first with a "small set of business stakeholders and members of the IT department" before going full-speed ahead.

The service works with Office Professional Plus 2016 applications running on Win32 systems (build 16.0.8067 or later). It also works with Office 2016 for Mac applications running on Mac systems (build 15.34.17051500 or later). Office Online, the browser-based Office applications that are frequently bundled with Office 365 business subscriptions, is also supported by the service.

Right now, the Centralized Deployment service works with Excel, PowerPoint and Word Office apps. Microsoft plans to extend it to include the Outlook app in a future update. Until that time, Outlook add-ins have to be installed across organizations using the Exchange management portal.

Despite the simple purpose of the Centralized Deployment service, IT pros will have to check to see if their computing environment will support its use. The service has a lot of requirements that might seem unrelated to its basic function. For instance, an organization's Active Directory must be federated with the Azure Active Directory service in order to use the service. If Exchange messaging is used in a computing environment, then user mailboxes "must be OAuth enabled" to use the service.

Microsoft has published a free Compatibility Checker for Centralized Deployment tool that organizations can use to see if their Office 365 versions will support using the Centralized Deployment service. It's possible to check for OAuth use in mailboxes, too, using Microsoft's Test-OAuthConnectivity PowerShell cmdlet.

The Centralized Deployment service also has a quirk if group assignment is used. It won't work for groups that are nested under a parent group. It will work for direct assignments or assignments across the whole tenancy, though.

Microsoft is still working on a way to show reports of add-in deployments that IT pros can use. IT pros also will get the ability to turn off add-ins in a future release. In addition, developers of add-ins will get telemetry information on their products' use within the "Office ISV Seller Dashboard" at some future time, Microsoft's announcement promised.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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