Yo Office

Ok, odd title, I know. For some developers “in the know,” they will understand what I am eluding to. So what does it mean? It is short for Yeoman. In their own words, here is what it does:

Yeoman helps you to kickstart new projects, prescribing best practices and tools to help you stay productive. To do so, we provide a generator ecosystem. A generator is basically a plugin that can be run with the `yo` command to scaffold complete projects or useful parts.

So, by “yo office”, I am telling you that Office Web Add-in templates can be delivered through this cross-platform command line tool. This means you do NOT need Visual Studio (or even Windows) to create a new Office Web Add-in project package. More importantly, these packages are setup through NodeJs Package Manager and are configured to use Node.js web server (which comes on MANY different platforms).

Now, if you are like me (a 20+ year VS Office Developer veteran), when I first heard this, it all sounds just like this:

Γράφω στα ελληνικά και αν καταλαβαίνετε αυτό, καλό για σας
FYI: That is Greek. wlEmoticon-hotsmile.png
So, I have a choice here and that is to make this a long blog post, or a short blog post and I dislike making long posts as much as you do reading them, so… In this case, here is the executive summary: The Microsoft Office Developer team is trying to make Office an accessible development platform no matter where you come from (experience wise) or what platform you use.
Now, for “super hip” developers living on the cusp of command-line based free developer tooling, put this in your MacBook:
yo office
For the rest of you…
To get this to work, you need to install Node JS from here. And next you need to install the prerequisites as per these steps. Once installed, you will open the Node JS command prompt (in Windows, from the Start menu, type NodeJS and it should appear as a choice) and perform these steps:
  1. Change directory (using cd) to the folder where you want the project to live.
  2. Type “yo office” and then answer the questions.
  3. In my case, I developed an Outlook add-in, with a manifest, using JavaScript, called “Outlook-Sample-1” and I chose JQuery as the framework. Here is the output:


When it is done, it will create a folder called Outlook-Sample-1 and place a set of files in it that you can edit and the NodeJS configuration to run it from a standalone web server locally. I used Visual Studio Code (or VS Code, as it is known, which is a new multi-platform code editor from Microsoft that runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux), to edit the add-in.
NOTE: If you have configured everything in Visual Studio Code correctly, you can not only get NodeJS to interact from the “Terminal Window” you can also hook to GitHub to push/pull your projects. It is a whole other topic for a whole other blog post, but VS Code is a bare essentials utilitarian cross-platform code editing development tool.
Now, which files you need to edit and such are beyond the scope here, but if you have done some development in this area before, you can probably quickly figure it out. I might post more on this in the future. Stay tuned!

Ok, ok… I know, I know… I need to stop here and address the big huge hulking elephant in the room. YES, these are command line tools. Yes, DOS is still dead. No, it is. Really. Repeat after me, DOS “IS” DEAD. Now, just accept that this is the way it is, because this is the way it is. I know, it seems so… 1994… Neo called from the Matrix to assure you it is, indeed, 2017. wlEmoticon-surprisedsmile.png For my fellow Visual Studio, 20+ year developer gurus: “deep breaths.” Now, back to our regularly scheduled broadcast..

Here is a view of my project from VS Code, with the Terminal Window open…
Once I was done, I opened a NodeJS command prompt in the Terminal window and launched my project using the following command:
npm  start
Once you run this command, you will effectively start NodeJS web server at http://localhost:3000 which will be hosting your WebAdd-in. But you still need to side load your manifest. To do this, you will need to follow these steps (for Windows), here for Mac, here for Outlook. This gets all kinds of technical and deep into other areas that are potentially future blog posts, but the point is that you can then debug your add-in locally no matter which platform you are on.
Ok, Ok… back to the elephant
So, is this BETTER than Visual Studio Enterprise and the JavaScript debugger there and code assistance I get?
Well, this is more nuanced… I lean towards “no” as most of this stuff is too lightweight, especially given my experience. Especially without the debugging. But, I do see some advantages (besides the command line tools) that have its advantages for use on Windows:
  • It is available across multiple platforms – including Windows. VS Code, Node JS, and “yo office” are everywhere, anywhere, over there, under that, etc.. wlEmoticon-disappointedsmile.png
  • Out-of-the-box support for TypeScript. Which I have not blogged on a lot, but Michael Zlatkovsky has covered well in his book. TypeScript makes JSDoc seem like child’s play.
  • Out-of-the-box support for the Node Package Manager ecosystem. This is a huge repository of reusable code.
  • VS Code is a light weight editor that hooks into NPM, Node and Git really well. And while it does not debug, recent builds of Office have added the ability to hook to a debugger right from your taskpane. Which is only good if you have a taskpane, but it is a start.
  • Node provides auto-refresh (browser-sync), auto-compilation, and other goodness.

Again, this might look like a lot of Greek, but if you find your shop turning Greek, you can at least know some starter phrases to begin acquiring the knowledge you need to speak it.


So, why is any of this important to me? Especially if you are telling me:
“I use Visual Studio Enterprise (or Pro) and I am happy with it, why would you introduce me to this Greek language lesson.”
The answer comes in three points you can take away:
  • Office development is really multi-platform capable now. This correlates to the fact the Office Applications are also multi-platform. Write your add-in once, and it will run (or the future plan is, it will run) on every platform you can think of: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux (or essentially an browser or any platform with a browser that has HTML5 support).
  • You know more about the vision, commitments and goals of the core Microsoft Office teams. If you get nothing out of this other than Microsoft is committed to true multi-platform capabilities with Office Web Add-ins, you have come away with a major point. But there is also the knowledge on how Office development can be done no matter the developer background. And hey. You 20+ year VS Office Developer veterans: take this to heart and read into it, because these are the tea leaves; then look over to your mentee that is likely your kids age and <sigh>.
  • You can move to another platform and still take what you know with you. This means that “cool” MacBook you bought several years back and gave to your kiddo when they went off to college can actually do something more than read email and browse web pages. wlEmoticon-hotsmile.png Uh, I still strongly suggest you stick to Web Add-in development on Windows and Visual Studio Enterprise if you are already there… just saying…
So, with this, I hope I have sufficiently given you a vision of things to come, and maybe even given a few of you some new things to research and delve into. If you want more, the entire how-to with Yeoman, including a cool video, is on the following page:

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