Microsoft Office Casts a Wider Web, Takes Holographic Turn

Developers can integrate more Office 365 functionality and intelligent services into their apps or take Excel for a spin on HoloLens.

Office 365

While the industry is still buzzing about Microsoft bringing Bash to Windows 10, the software giant also unveiled several new Office 365 capabilities at the Build conference this week in San Francisco.

Microsoft announced an assortment of new features, application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) that are poised to change the way users collaborate and help developers exploit the productivity software ecosystem's growing collection of intelligent services for their own applications. Among them is an upgraded Microsoft Graph.

Microsoft Graph (formerly the Office 365 Unified API) enables developers to create applications that incorporate data and intelligence from Microsoft. At Build, the software maker announced that it is exposing more functionality for more full-featured, Office-compatible apps.

"New APIs return 'relevant documents' and suggestions for meeting times based on real-time calendar availability," wrote Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office team, in a blog post. "And new web and device SDKs make it easier than ever to access the Microsoft Graph and surface Office 365 data in business solutions using simple drop-in integrations like the OneDrive file picker."

Developers can now access the out-of-office status of a user and recent email attachments. In a move to improve application responsiveness, Microsoft Graph now provides notifications for changes in users' calendar, email and contacts.

Further unifying the Office experience across devices, add-ins are coming to Office for Mac this spring, Microsoft announced. The company also unveiled new centralized add-in deployment and methods of programmatically creating custom Office ribbons and buttons.

In keeping with the "Conversations as a Platform" theme of this year's conference, Microsoft showcased the new Office 365 Groups connectors, Skype Web SDK and Skype for Business App SDK.

Office 365 Groups connectors push data from other applications like Salesforce and Zendesk in shared Office Group inboxes in Outlook, sparking conversations and helping teams collaborate on opportunities, service requests and other business tasks. Building on the increasingly closer ties between the Skype and Office 365 platforms, both the Skype Web SDK and Skype for Business App SDK, offered through the Office Dev Center, offer developers cloud-based secure messaging, calling, conferencing and real-time presence capabilities.

Finally, Office is getting holographic.

Microsoft has made preview versions of the Office Universal apps available to download on the HoloLens Development Edition via the Windows Store. HoloLens is a Windows 10-powered, augmented reality headset that overlays 3D images, or holograms, over a user's physical surroundings. The Development Edition of the hardware, priced at $3,000, started shipping March 30.

Representing an early stab at a virtual Office experience, users can expect to run into some shortcomings. According to the Office on HoloLens FAQ, features like spell check, printing and sharing Office files as an attachment from within Word, Excel, PowerPoint or OneNote currently don't work.

Microsoft has been steadily bulking up Office's capabilities, pushing it beyond its word processing and spreadsheet software roots as enterprises adopt more mobile- and social-enabled workstyles. Last spring, taking a cue from social networks, the company added customizable, mobile-friendly profile pages to the Office Graph-powered Delve app.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...