How to Add Features to Microsoft Office with Office Apps

Apps are a popular way for developers to add functionality to software programs. In both Microsoft Office 2013 and Office 365, you can download and install apps created by third-party developers to extend the productivity suites’ usefulness. Some apps work only in one program—such as Excel—while others operate across multiple programs.

Why might you want to add apps to Office? Consider this: Word 2013 doesn’t ship with a dictionary (what the heck, Microsoft?). Instead, you can download and install a dictionary app to help out when you need to check the meaning of a word.

In this article, we’ll show you how to find these apps for Office, and we’ll introduce you to some of the most popular choices.

How to Find and Install Office Apps

Apps typically perform only one task, but they do it very well. Some apps cost a few dollars, but most are free or at least offer a free version so you can try it first. When you want to use an app, you download it into the relevant Office program, after which it will always be available.

To find apps, open one of the Office programs—such as Microsoft Word—click the Insert tab and, in the Apps group, click the Store icon to open the store dialog box. If that icon’s grayed out, it means you have either a document open in Compatibility Mode or one that’s saved in the older .doc format. You can also access the Office Store using a Web browser.

The Office Store displays the apps available for the program that you’re using so, if you’re using Word it will show only apps designed for Word. The dialog also has a My Apps link that you can click to view the apps you already have installed. The Manage My Apps link takes you online to a page where you can view your apps, remove them, and learn more about any that might have been discontinued or upgraded.

Handy Apps for Microsoft Word

As mentioned earlier, you can download a dictionary app for Word 2013 from the Office Store. Dictionary apps include the free Microsoft Bing Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Click to install one or both of them. Once you have either of the dictionary apps installed, you can select a word in in your document and press Ctrl + F7 to look up the definition. When you do so, the app opens automatically in the task pane.

Microsoft Office task pane

Figure 1: Most Office apps, like the Merriam-Webster dictionary, operate from a task pane that appears when the app launches.

If you want to create diagrams inside Word, you can use the Lucidchart app. The app launches in a task pane, and when you click Create New Diagram, it launches your Web browser so you can create your diagram there. When you’re done, click Return to Office to return to Microsoft Office to view your diagram in the task pane. Then click to insert it into your document. This app has both a free and a for-fee version.

Lucidchart app for Microsoft Word

Figure 2: You can create diagrams in Lucidchart online, and then insert them into a document via the task pane.

A Picture Search App for PowerPoint

An app called comes in handy for both PowerPoint and Word. It helps you find images for your presentations and documents. Once you install the app, launch it from the My Apps dialog and choose a category of images to view, or type a description of an image to search for.

When you click Insert Photo, the app copies the image to the Windows clipboard, and you can then paste it into the presentation. You can request images if you don’t find one that suits, although there is a 24 hour delay before photo requests become available. app for PowerPoint and Word

Figure 3: The app gives you a tool for finding images for both PowerPoint presentations and Word documents.

Chart Apps for Excel

Many of the apps for Microsoft Excel create charts that don’t have an Excel equivalent. The Bing Maps app, for example, lets you plot data on a map. To do this, put location information in one column and the associated data in adjacent columns. Select the data and click to plot it on a map. Bing Maps includes worldwide maps so you’re not limited to data for the USA alone.

Bing maps app for Excel

Figure 4: Use Bing Maps to plot data on maps with ease.

Other charting apps include the free Bubbles app that takes data from your spreadsheet and draws it as bubbles in a diagram. The Gauge app plots one or more values on simple graphical gauges and would be useful for dashboard worksheets. You will select one or more cells containing numeric values, and then set the overall range for the gauge and for the green, yellow, and red parts of the gauge. The app then plots each selected value plotted on its own gauge.

The Gauge app for Excel

Figure 5: Gauge creates a handy visual gauge diagram and would be useful for dashboards.

And finally, People Graph, another app that works well with dashboards, makes a mini-infographic from your data. The available shapes include people as well as hearts, stars, clothing, and more.

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