Microsoft defines add-ins as “supplemental programs that extend the functionality of Office applications, adding custom commands and specialized features.”
What they are saying is that they cannot stuff everything into their software and, far from frowning on such additions, encourage them by making it easy to manage them from within their programs. Yes, other Office programs such as Excel, Word and Outlook and have add-ins too.
There are two kinds of add-ins, although that does not make a great deal of difference when you use them. It’s just a technical thing to do with the code they are written in. There are ‘add-ins’ and ‘COM add-ins’. The first tend to be simpler than the second.
Examples of PowerPoint Add-ins
An example of an ‘ordinary’ add-in would be the free ‘Import Pics’ add-in I have listed in the Encyclopedia. When you activate it, it asks you where the photos you want to import are, and then it goes off and does it. This is something you could do manually, picture by picture, but it would be extremely tedious.
A COM Add-in, on the other hand, is likely to do something that you can’t do in PowerPoint. To use one of my own add-ins as an example, the Opazity add-in enables you to ‘snap’ a picture of whatever is underneath a PowerPoint shape. Even in PowerPoint 2010, with its fantastically improved graphics capabilities you can’t do that.
Interestingly, Microsoft is happy for other companies to produce extras that will enhance the experience of their customers. Having to cater to such a big market they recognised that they could not provide it all themselves. In fact, until the release of Office 2013 in 2012, Microsoft provided a venue, called Office Marketplace, for the promotion of add-ins, etc. relating to their programs. Sadly, they have taken that site down, telling people that they can find the add-ins by searching the internet. Unfortunately, they do not take into account that people will not search for, and therefore not discover, things that they do not know exist. Duh!
Enabling your PowerPoint add-ins
I think this is probably a good place for a tip on how to enable an add-in if PowerPoint ever disables one.
When you install an add-in (close PPT before installing, by the way), everything should be handled automatically and it will appear in the Add-ins tab in the Ribbon in PPT 2007 onwards, or in a separate toolbar in earlier versions. In the latter case you can drag the toolbar to somewhere on the toolbars area for neatness.
However, computer setups these days are complicated and varied and so PowerPoint occasionally throws what is technically known – to me at least – as a ‘wobbly’. It refuses to load the add-in correctly and disables it. The following instructions for re-enabling an add-in apply to PPT 2007 onwards. The functions in PTT 2003 and earlier are similar, but they are located in the Tools > Options area.
- Go to the Options menu entry (Office button > Preferences > Options in 2007 and File > Options in PPT 2010) and click on Add-ins in the menu on the left.
- If you see the Add-in you installed on the list, that’s good! If not, try re-installing it after having uninstalled it first if possible.
- At the bottom of the box you will see a drop-down item which says ‘COM Add-ins’. Click on the drop-down (not on the Go button yet) and select ‘Disabled Items’ and then click ‘Go’.
- A dialog box will appear. If it lists the new Add-in, click on it, and then ‘Enable’ and ‘Close’.
- Now set the drop-down item back to ‘COM Add-ins’ and click ‘Go’. Click in the box to put a checkmark against the name of the add-in, click ‘OK’. The add-in should now appear in PowerPoint!