Microsoft announced a new Office 365 feature on October, 16, 2014: The Office 365 app launcher. To be honest, I didn’t spend much attention looking at this new feature but I have seen the light. The Office 365 app launcher can be a powerful tool to increase productivity and improve adoption. Why? Two words: availability and extensibility.
I have to admit the name is a bit confusing because the app launcher displays a collection of items (figure 1).
Figure 1: The Office 365 app launcher includes more than just Office, SharePoint and OneDrive.
You can spot Office 365 services such as Delve and Power BI, but on the other hand you have Tasks and Admin, which are nothing more than links to Outlook tasks and the Office 365 Admin Portal. This doesn’t necessarily fit the definition of an app, but that’s alright. The app launcher is an awesome feature because it’s available through every Office 365 service or site within Office 365. Did you click on OneDrive to continue working on your presentation? No worries. The app launcher (figure 2) is still available.
Figure 2: Even within an Office 365 service, you can easily get back to the app launcher.
This availability feature really improves the user adoption of your Office 365 implementation because business users are now able to quickly browse to the services they need while getting the job done. Do they need to write an e-mail? Click the Outlook icon. Do they want to share their expertise? They click Yammer. You get the drill; really powerful stuff!
This article is aimed at extending the app launcher. I do want to stress, this article isn’t about developing an app with Visual Studio and adding it to the app launcher. This article talks about adding apps that point to your business applications accessible through the browser. For example, I work for Sparked and we declare our billable hours in an application called Timewax. Instead of adding a link to Timewax in my browser’s favorites or as a link on the intranet home page (useful links anybody?), we added it to the app launcher, as shown in figure 3.
Figure 3: The app launcher for our Sparked tenant includes the Timewax app.
I know the icon is hideous but that’s because we haven’t found the time to create a new icon. We are busy; give us a break. Let me take you through the process of extending the app launcher with an app that opens your business application such as Timewax. Let’s start!
Go to your Office 365 Admin Portal and look at the items under Admin.
Figure 4: You have to add your app using Windows Azure.
You need to use Windows Azure to add apps to the app launcher. Every Office 365 customer gets a free Azure subscription. The very first time you click on the Azure AD link, you are referred to the Microsoft Azure registration site and you have to register your Office 365 domain with Azure. I was having issues with this, but Microsoft Azure support fixed this within the hour! Please don’t hesitate to contact them; they really do a great job. The screen in figure 5 appears after the subscription process succeeds.
Figure 5: Your Office 365 domain name is now connected to Microsoft Azure.
Click on your domain name, in my case Easterfield, and the following screen appears:
Figure 6: The menu of Windows Azure options available for my domain.
Microsoft Azure offers a set of options that you can configure for your Office 365 domain. We want to add a new app for the app launcher, and for that we'll click the Applications menu (Figure 6). The screen in figure 7 appears.
Figure 7: You'll want to click Add at the bottom of the screen to add your app.
You see an overview of your available apps. Click Add at the bottom (center) of the screen (figure 7). Next, Windows Azure will ask what kind of app you want to add (figure 8).
Figure 8: Select the type of app you want to add to your app launcher.
Click Add an application from the gallery and you'll see many apps available in the Windows Azure app store (figure 9).
Figure 9: The Application Gallery shows many applications that you could add to your app launcher.
You get an overview of all the available apps in the Azure app store; many are definitely worth checking out. For now, we want to add our own app, so click Custom (figure 9). In the dialog that pops up (figure 10), enter the name of the custom app and click the arrow to add the application:
Figure 10: Enter the name of the app and click on the checkmark (ѵ) icon.
After the app has been added, you need to configure single sign-on, so you'll see the screen in figure 11.
Figure 11: You must configure single sign-on for the new app.
After clicking on Configure single sign-on, the screen in figure 12 appears.
Figure 12: Select the Existing Single Sign-On option.
I have to admit this is a bit confusing because you don't need to have a single sign-on configured between your external business application and Office 365. We only want an app referring to our business application and we can sign in with other credentials. We pick the last option: Existing Single Sign-On and click on the arrow icon.
Figure 13: Enter the URL of your external application.
In this step (figure 13), just enter the URL of your external application and click the checkmark (ѵ). This takes you back to the home screen (figure 14) so you can assign users for the new app you added.
Figure 14: With single sign-on enabled for the app, you can now assign users who can access it.
Click the Assign users button and you'll soon see a page (figure 15) where you can start assigning users.
Figure 15: An overview of the available users of your Office 365 tenant.
Next, you'll select one or more users that you want to grant access to.
Figure 16: Select all or a few users who you want to assign permissions to use the app.
With the users highlighted, click Assign at the bottom of the screen. You'll see a prompt from Windows Azure to confirm (Figure 17). Click Yes:
Figure 17. Confirm that you want to enable access to the users you selected.
In the next step you will click Upload logo to add your custom logo for the app. (You can guess the steps so I won't add them here.) You can only see the new app after you close your Office 365 session and start a new session.
Let’s go back to the app launcher and click My apps at the right bottom of the screen. You'll see the app you added with the logo you uploaded. Figure 18 shows my new app with my photo as my logo.
Figure 18: There's my new app, in My apps, called New App. :-)
There is our new app that refers to our business application! The app isn’t added to the app launcher by default. You have to click Pin to app launcher as shown in figure 19:
Figure 19: From within My apps, choose your app and click Pin to app launcher.
Unfortunately you aren’t able to pin the app at the top navigation bar. Can’t have it all, right?
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and see the opportunities the app launcher can offer your business and business users.
This article wouldn’t be possible without these great community articles:
Office 365: How to add Azure Apps to a tenant (I)
Office 365: How to add Azure Apps to a tenant (II)
Zelf Apps toevoegen in de App launcher (Dutch)
They helped me in my Office 365 travels and inspired me to write this article. Thanks guys!