"When will you support Jive for Office/Outlook for Mac???"...
This question is being echoed all over the JiveWorks community, and it's something I hear in many customer meetings.
In fact, this question dates back to 2012, when Ryan Musselwhite posted the Mac OS X support for the office & outlook plugin idea, that so far has scored 790 points, ranking it as the 2nd most desired capability.
So what is going on? When can you expect to see progress here? Hopefully, this blog post will help answer these questions as I share with you the background, current status and plans to get the J4O suite to OSX.
Before I begin, let me start with a small confession: I'm a Mac person. I've been so for the past 10 years and I love it.
And I'm not alone – most of us Jivers use Mac products and we are just as eager as you to enjoy Jive goodness in our Office/Outlook on our Macs.
A brief history about Office/Outlook extensions
Back when we started working on J4O, the only technology that was available to extend the MS Office suite was a technology called COM extensions.
This technology allows the developer to deploy and execute code as part of the Office/Outlook executable, which allows complete freedom to implement our own logic, and manipulate the user interface to provide the best Jive user experience.
Having such freedom gives the developer a lot of power to innovate and tinker with the application as they see fit, but it also comes with some undesired side effects such as instability, responsiveness issues, plugin collision issues and issues with software upgrades.
The phrase "with great power comes great responsibility," surely applies here as well...
Another aspect to COM extensions is the fact that they are available for just the windows platform, which means that support for web/mobile/OSX needs to be developed independently.
Microsoft recognised these shortcomings of the COM extensions, and in 2013, Microsoft introduced an alternative way to develop extensions, named "add-ins," that address most of the issues I've described in COM extensions:
- Built on web technologies (HTML/JS/CSS), that opens the door to being platform agnostics.
- Running in a controlled sandboxed environment - solves most of the instability/responsiveness issues.
- Restrict the capabilities to several extension points - solves plugin collisions and software upgrade issues, and allows for consistency across extensions.
You can read more about Add-ins, in the Microsoft dev resources site here - Office Dev Center.
Jive plugins are a good example to a similar technology offered by Jive, that have gone through similar route.
The Jive plugins allow developers to execute their code as part of the Jive process, and again, do pretty much whatever they want, and similarly, they hold the same undesired side effects of potential plugin collisions, and complicated upgrades due to the intrusive nature of the Jive plugins.
Similar to Microsoft, Jive shifted to a more managed way to introduce Jive integrations, with the introduction of Jive Add-ons, Jive apps and deep integration patterns such as stream integrations,storage integrations and more.
Add-ins support on Mac
We at Jive have been closely tracking the developments of "Add-ins", since they were announced back in 2013, to examine the possibilities of a Mac solution.
Unfortunately (#1), up until lately, Add-ins did not support the Mac platform, which left no option to develop extensions (please remember that COM extensions are not applicable for Macs).
But then, in April 2016, in the Microsoft’s 2016 Build Developers conferees, Microsoft announced, that they are finally adding the support for Add-ins to the Mac platform.
The news got us all excited, and we immediately examined the new capabilities, to finally pave the path for a Jive for Office/Outlook solution for Mac!
We started a POC to better understand the capabilities/limitations, but, unfortunately (#2), the results we observed were not too encouraging.
The state of Jive for Office/Outlook on Mac
Add-ins offer a limited set of capabilities to the developer with what they can do to extended Office/Outlook.
For instance, the developer is limited to a few pre-defined UI elements:
- Commands & Tabs - Office Dev Center - Docs - UI Elements
- Custom panes - Office Dev Center - Docs - custom-pane-outlook-add-ins
- Task pane container - Office Dev Center - Docs - Layout for task pane add-ins
These UI elements comes with their own set of restrictions, such as:
- The custom pane has a fixed size, and limited to 450px height.
- The custom pane is hidden by default, and can only be shown if user has actively clicked on the Add-in.
These restrictions put large obstacles to getting J4O, for instance:
- There is no way to "replace" the email view, with our own Jive view, as we do today with Jive for Outlook.
- The experience of having to click, each time, on the Jive Add-in to be able to view the threaded Jive conversation will result in a poor user experience, and will impact the adoption greatly.
- No ability to offer functionality such as Super Search.
In addition, as Add-ins are executed on demand, per user action, there is no ability to execute code in the background, which again, really limits the capabilities of advance solutions like Jive for Office.
We feel that the current capabilities of Add-ins in Mac are such that will not allow us to provide the same experience you've come to expect in the Windows platform.
We expect that Add-ins will gain more capabilities, but will always be limited compared to COM extensions.
We will continue to offer and evolve our solution for OWA & Office online, as an alternative to our Windows only desktop offering, to allow Mac users to experience Jive on their Outlook and Office while in working in their favorite browser.
(O365 JiveAnywhere cartridge) (OWA JiveAnywhere cartridge)
We are continuing to monitor the development, and think of other "out of the box" ideas to get Jive for Office/Outlook for the Mac platform.
The idea behind this blog post is to provide you a deeper insight into the complexity of porting our extensions to support Mac.
Hopefully, this helps with the understanding of where we stand with our efforts, and our intentions.
I will continue to update you as progress is made.