Use Add-ins and Apps to Expand What Microsoft Office Can Do

Install third-party tools to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more

Screenshot of Microsoft Office Online

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Many productivity superstars have never knowingly used software add-ins and apps in the Microsoft Office suite. 

The Difference Between Add-Ins and Apps

If you have heard of either of these things, you may have an inkling that they function pretty much the same.

From a technical standpoint, apps are a more versatile, elegant solution. The difference is, an add-in cannot operate by itself. An app has its own user interface, so most apps can work by themselves, but in the case of office suite apps, these functions will typically have little relevance outside the context of the suite anyway.

For that reason, this comparison may sound like tomatoes, tomahtoes. Be it an add-in or an app, either way, it is simply something that gives you additional functionality in your office suite programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and others.

Add-Ins: The Disappearing Present

In Microsoft Office, for example, an add-in may create a new menu offering new tools. For example, popular add-ins allow users to create a PDF from a Word document or provide a bank of math symbols and notation.

Apps: The Imminent Future

The trend for future office suites, however, is shifting to a very similar product: apps. Apps are miniature programs that aim to do one thing well, as opposed to a bigger program like your office suite applications, which do many things.

Some people associate apps with smartphones and other portable devices, but they are not just for mobile productivity.

If you have used add-ins in the past, no need to fear stepping into some of these new apps.

Get More Compatibility With Later Versions of Office

By jumping into more recent versions of the traditional desktop version of Office, you should find more apps or add-ins than for later versions. The reason is fairly obvious: third-party developers typically want to invest work that will stay relevant longer, by focusing on later versions of office software such as Office. Since Office 2013, for example, users get a lot more integration with Microsoft's cloud service, OneDrive, as part of Office 365.

Programs in this new version of the Office suite give you direct access to Microsoft's marketplace of apps specific to many of the programs.

Microsoft’s Productivity App Marketplace by Program

Here’s where you can check out some of the most popular apps. Currently, the latest Office apps are not available in all programs, but you should be able to find some that will work for your version such as Word AppsExcel Apps, or PowerPoint Apps.

Viewing Installed Add-ins

You may have been using an add-in without knowing it. To check, you just need to open a given program. If it is one that has an Office button at the upper left, click this, then click on Options (as in Word Options, Excel Options, PowerPoint Options, etc), then Add-ins. If you are in Outlook or some versions of Publisher, go instead to Tools then Trust Center then Add-ins.

Apps Advanced! The Trend Toward Building Your Own

Microsoft’s Office 2013 suite also evinces a direction for productivity: don't wait for someone else to make your apps. Yes, you need to know how to code to do this. If this intimidates you, go ahead and use apps offered in the marketplace. If you have some coding skills and customization excites you, though, jump on in because this trend is one that will stick.