The Microsoft App rename game

DevToolsGuy / Monday, February 22, 2016

Jargon is a funny thing isn’t it? A language that is ‘normal’ to a specific industry can be alien to others and quite naturally hard to pick up - take medical or legal orientations for example.  This level of verbal intricacy can be exacerbated by the frequency at which the validity of these terms can change. Whilst this may not be a risk for most professionals, anyone working within the tech industry will probably have fallen prey to this particular phenomenon. In SharePoint Parlance, one such term would be the term “app.”

For most people familiar with technology, an app has a specific meaning. Furthermore, most vendors have their own form of app store too. What Apple began, Google continued and Microsoft successfully gate-crashed.  An app represents a “thing” that a user can download to meet a need, whether this is a gaming, organizational or functional need.  App stores have conditioned people to seek out what they need and in a way, most users expect this form of transactional interaction across more technological walks of life.

What we want to explore in this post is how jargon changes have been applied to the SharePoint world we all know and love. It only seems recently that Microsoft revitalized the idea of an app store for SharePoint when the 2013 version was shipped. What we’d like to walk you through today is the renaming of these apps with the pending launch of SharePoint 2016 in the spring. Or as we like to call it, “The Microsoft Rename Game.”

App or Add-in?

The first inkling of change came from the Ignite conference at the turn of last year. Whilst we all tend to look out for the sexy headlines (SharePoint 2016 Hybrid, etc.) there is always value in looking at some of the smaller, less publicized stories that are produced at these conferences.

In our instance, the renaming of the SharePoint App Model to Add-in Model.

Sounds odd right?  Well, let’s delve into that.

The reasons behind this change can be summarized as such:

  1. Confusion across Microsoft’s product range as to the exact meaning of the word App
  2. Negativity from the Partner Network over the perceived meaning of the word

The Microsoft Product Range

The biggest reason behind the change is to garner a more harmonized and consistent experience across Microsoft’s products and stores.  Consider the large number of devices that Microsoft is catering for with device based Office products and you’ll get a lengthy list.  This would start with iOS devices, Android Devices and so on.  If a user downloaded what they perceived to be the Office “App” and then subsequently found there were other “apps” inside it, such as Word and Excel, it’s pretty clear to see why there would be confusion.

This conflict is also evident in the fully fledged desktop applications. The Apps tab gives access to both the Office Store and a summary of installed apps. Again, this is further evidence of where an “app within an app” can confuse users.

Feedback from the Partner Network

A secondary but no less insignificant reason, is feedback from the partner network.  An App in SharePoint can appear a simple thing to an end-user but in reality can be the results of significant amounts of work.  The app model allowed SharePoint developers to integrate non SharePoint data and any technology stack of their choosing into the product.  However, the caveat to this is pricing.

If the visible end product looks and feels like an app, those responsible for paying the bills may benchmark the value against a £5 application or some-such from a device app-store.

User behavior & moving forward

On the flip side though, Microsoft are using this perception positively. As users are already familiar with the notion of “adding things to SharePoint / Office”, the name change really becomes quite easy to understand.  So, from here onwards, the new terminology that Microsoft would like to push is:

  • SharePoint Add-ins
  • Office Add-ins

Jeremy Thake, senior Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft, has provided a list of useful terms on his blog which you can check out here. For a quick glance, here’s that all important new naming convention list…


Previous Name New Name
Apps for SharePoint SharePoint Add-ins
App Web Add-in Web
App Part Add-in Part
SharePoint App Model SharePoint Add-in Model
SharePoint Hosted App SharePoint Hosted Add-in
SharePoint Provider Hosted App SharePoint Provider Hosted Add-in
Apps for Office Office Add-ins
Office App Model Office Add-in Model
Apps for Office in Outlook Outlook Add-ins
Apps for Office in Excel Excel Add-ins
Apps for Office in PowerPoint PowerPoint Add-ins
Apps for Office in Word Word Add-ins


Making things easier

Lastly, please keep in mind that the confusion is only made worse by the state of flux that Microsoft is in. Documentation is still being updated and lots of literature is still to be written. 

The new naming convention will, in the long run, make things a lot easier and straighter forward to understand.  Removing the ambiguity over specific terms across the Microsoft space will only lead itself to both positivity and profitability.