This post is about a friction free way to get started building Apps for Office by hosting your backend Web application on Windows Azure Web Sites. First,Windows Azure Web Sites are free now in Preview at the time of this blog posting. You can get up to 10 sites free and each site can have multiple instances for scaling out before you need to move up to pay sites. You’ll need to visit and stay tuned to the Windows Azure site, windowsazure.com, for announcements, pricing and features for Web Sites. Additionally, HTTPS is supported on the *.azurewebsites.net domain. If you don’t need your own domain name for your app for Office (using a private domain requires a paid level) then possibly the azurewebsites.net domain will work for you even as your app moves into the Office Store on office.com. Your Apps for Office require HTTPS to be available in the Office Store, but having a private domain is not a requirement. And when an app for Office renders in the Office client, the URL is not seen.
Secondly, Windows Azure Web Sites, as you’ll see, can be managed for the most part, just like you would a typical Web site on IIS. Therefore you do not need the Windows Azure SDK loaded on your dev machine as if you were developing for Windows Azure Cloud Services (although you certainly could build your app for Office on Cloud Services, but that would be another post), so again, it’s the friction free way to get rolling. If you want your app for Office to consume other Windows Azure based services then you would need the Windows Azure SDK, but using Web Sites alone you do not need it.
To develop apps for Office you do not necessarily need an Office 365 Developer Site, but you do need to make sure that you have the Office 2013 clients (or you can get these from your MSDN or TechNet subscription) installed on a machine you want to test with. If you use Visual Studio to develop with, you’ll need Visual Studio 2012 Pro or above and the Microsoft Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio 2012 – Preview 2. Once VS 2012 is installed, run the Microsoft Web Platform Installer on your developer machine and search for “Office” you’ll find the above Office/SharePoint tools for building apps to download/install.
Resources for Building Apps for Office:
dev.office.com is your friend for resources on building apps for Office and SharePoint.
Setup a Windows Azure Account:
Setup a Network Share for the App for Office Manifest file:
Configure Office Clients to Trust the Network Share for Manifest Files:
Create App for Office:
Deploy the App for Office Manifest file to the File Share:
Test your App for Office:
This post is meant to only provide an introduction to simply show the pattern for using Windows Azure Web Sites as a backend for apps for Office. But for next steps you would need to think about whether your app for Office needs to support multi-tenancy. If so, you may need to couple a Windows Azure SQL Database with your Web Site. Here again, you should check back on the windowsazure.com site and click on the pricing tab to run some numbers along with what will it mean when you hit the maximum instances/capacity on your free site and need to start moving into the pay-as-you-scale-out dynamic. But, in any case, Windows Azure Web Sites are a super option to start with where the risks and costs have a very low barrier for entry.
So start building your Apps for Office on Windows Azure Web Sites today!