The new model for creating apps for Microsoft Office will mean that in the future teachers and lecturers will become familiar with simply downloading or buying small apps to improve the way they work with Office – and I believe it will lead to a burst of apps that will be written specifically to help make life easier for education users.
When I first wrote about developing apps for Office, and the new Office Store last year, the app ideas I discussed were things that would help teachers, lecturers and researchers to save time in their working life (eg automating cover booking for lessons/lectures; an institution-specific research assistant; or a resource booker for portable teaching resources), or improve the information flow between students and their teaching staff (eg an assignment submitter; or assignment/lesson plan publisher).
Since then the new Office has been fully released for education customers to upgrade to, and with the consumer launch ahead of us, I expect there will be a bit more focus on apps for Office, as more users start to upgrade to Word 2013, Excel 2013 and PowerPoint 2013 etc. And with the millions of Live@edu users migrating to Office 365 for education this year – and starting to use SharePoint in the cloud, there'll be even more opportunities for software developers to sell their apps through the public Office Store, or make them available through institutional downloads.
The latest release of Office Developer Tools
The tools that developers will use for creating Office apps - Microsoft Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio 2012 and Napa tools - have been available for a while, and are already on their second version. The Napa tools allow developers to create apps integrating web and cloud services within Office documents, emails, meetings etc. The latest version of the Napa tools have added the ability to develop apps for PowerPoint (how about an app that automatically publishes a PowerPoint into the right folder in your Office 365 for education setup, links to the right Moodle course, adds the correct metadata tags to make it searchable by others, and links to the assessment task?).
And the Apps for SharePoint model allows developers to easily turn an existing web project into a SharePoint app, making it easier to have data flowing between the web project and your SharePoint (even something as simple as avoiding users having to log-in twice is a real bonus).
The LightSwitch developer tools have also been updated, to make it easy to create touch-enabled, data-centric applications (download 'What is LightSwitch?') in HTML5. The update lets you create and deploy apps for the new SharePoint model – and makes it possible to publish apps that are in the public Office Store, or released just inside your organisation.
For more information on developing education apps for Office, and the free training courses in Australia in February 2013, search for blog posts with the tag "Developers" and "Office"