Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Outlook 2013, you're add-in dev skillz still apply...

Jon Lester's Blog - Playing around with add-ins for Outlook 2013

"Just recently starting as a new Project Manager at Wintellect, I’ve been “re-tooling” a little bit as a PM.  Mainly this is just figuring out how Wintellect does things differently than how I’ve done it in the past.  One of the things I’ve noticed is that not everyone here uses Outlook for their email/calendar.  At least a handful of people use iCal, which uses the iCalendar (or *.ics file format), and normal Outlook meetings don’t import easily.  Needless to say, if you are a project manager and you want people to show up to your meetings, you need a format that works for everyone.  However, this doesn’t seem to be a scenario that Outlook accounts for out-of-the-box.  There is an option in Outlook to send meeting requests in iCalendar format for recipients “Outside the organization”, but these folks are inside the organization, so that doesn’t help me.  After a little digging, I did find a manual process to attach an iCalendar file to a new meeting request which involves a number of steps, but frankly this approach does not interest me if I’m going to have to do it more than a handful of times.

As a PM I schedule a lot of meetings (duh, right?), and anything I do repetitively I want to be as simple as possible.  So, I started looking into creating a custom add-in for Outlook to help me create new meeting requests easily.  My goals were the following:

  1. Expose a button somewhere on the new meeting request form to attach a copy of the meeting request as an *.ics file.
  2. And, while I’m at it, give me a way to insert my standard “meeting template” content into a new meeting request (things like conference dial in information, meeting agenda outline, etc). I have used a custom template in my Outlook “Personal Forms” library, but like many things it involves too many clicks to use it.  I’ve also used the Conferencing Add-in in the past, but wasn’t always thrilled with its reliability.

I was actually surprised how easy it was to pull this together, so I thought I would share the process I followed to implement my add-on.

First off, you need to have the “Microsoft Office developer tools” feature of Visual Studio installed, which I’m fairly certain is included with the default installation.  Begin by creating a new project, and selecting “Outlook 201x Add-In”.  I didn’t have the Office 2013 Developer Tools installed in my environment at the time I did this (you won’t either if your running the RTM version of VS 2012, since Office 2013 was released after), so I just used the project template for Outlook 2010.



I've been back and forth with Office 2013. I really like some of it's features, but there's a couple I really hate (the main one is how it only show's "Today's" meetings on the ToDo bar... sigh). Seeing Jon's post made me wonder if I couldn't "fix" Outlook to fit me better. Now his example doesn't go near what I want to do (create a ToDo bar for 2013 that works like it does in 2010), but it did remind me that while there's the new shiny app model in 2013, there's still support for VSTO too. I need to look and see if there's anyway I can do what I want to do...

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