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New Add-in: Add-ins Tab Extender (with Add-in Central)


TheOfficeMaven
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Hi Everyone,

 

I'm not sure if this is the right forum to post this in as it applies to all of the Windows Server Solutions (and not just Windows Home Server 2011), but I don't really see a more appropriate forum in the list (and I don't want to spam multiple different forums in hopes that everyone sees it). Anyway...

 

I've been frustrated for quite some time now that Microsoft removed the "Version" column from the "APPLICATIONS" page in Windows Server 2012 Essentials and Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials. I used it all the time in Windows Home server 2011 to quickly view the version number of all of my installed add-ins. I suppose that Microsoft had their reasons for removing it, but out of frustration, I decided that I would go ahead and write a quick and dirty little add-in that would add the column back.

 

Looking at the Windows Server Solutions Software Development Kit (SDK), it appeared that it would be quite easy for me to write a PageAdorner in order to extend the built-in "Add-ins" subtab and add back in a Version column. Well, long story short, nothing is ever as easy as you think it will be. Turns out that you can extend all of the built-in tabs in the server Dashboard application except for the silly "Add-ins" subtab. Oy! :wacko:  I really wish that Microsoft would have made this clear before sending me down a rabbit hole for hours upon hours. Anyway, determined not to be defeated (and after having investing way more time into this than I ever intended or wanted to), I ended up figuring out a way to do it (without the SDK). Also, since I had already spent way too much time on the add-in, I decided to have a look at what else I could do to enhance the built-in Add-ins tab. Hence the birth of my new "Add-ins Tab Extender" add-in.

 

Additionally, some of you long-timers may remember an add-in that I wrote in conjunction with MVP Alexander Kent years ago for use with Windows Home Server V1/2003 called Add-in Central. It was a really nice add-in that allowed you to discover and track useful add-ins for your home server. Well, I decided to take a crack at writing another version of Add-in Central for use with the newer editions of Microsoft's Windows Server Solutions operating systems, and I have included that venture in the new Add-ins Tab Extender add-in as well.

 

At this point, I'm not 100% sure what I'm going to do with the add-in (or if my server will even be able to handle the load that might be put upon it), but if you would like to give it a try, I'd really appreciate your feedback. Here's a description of the new add-in along with some screenshots to entice you guys to download and install it on your servers. Currently, there's only a few add-ins listed in Add-in central (mostly my own), but if you guys would like to help submit additional add-ins, I'll quickly add them to the list (which is easily refreshed from within the add-in). There's a link in the add-in that will take you to a web-based form over on my website where you can submit add-ins that aren't already in the list. Hopefully, with some help from the community, the list will continue to grow, and Add-in Central will become a valuable add-in discovery and tracking resource for everyone (as let's face it... the Microsoft Pinpoint website is sorely lacking in the area of add-ins for our little servers  :rolleyes:).

 

 

Add-ins Tab Extender is a Windows Server Solutions add-in that extends and enhances the "Add-ins" ("APPLICATIONS") tab/page of the server Dashboard application. The built-in/existing "Add-ins" subtab is enhanced in the following ways:

 

• The "Name" column now includes an image representing the installed add-in.

• Adds back the "Version" column (showing the installed add-in's current version number) that Microsoft removed under Windows Server 2012 Essentials and Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials.

• The "Add-in status" ("Update status") column shows the type of update that is available (i.e. critical, important, or normal/standard), along with a corresponding image, and the version number of the available update.

• The "Subscription status" column includes an image indicating when the add-in is about to expire, or if it has already expired.

• Adds an "Installed on" column indicating the date on which the add-in was first installed on the server.

• Adds an "Install on network computers" column indicating whether or not the installed add-in supports installation on client computers, and if so, if it is currently set to automatically perform those installations or not.

• Adds a "Macintosh client support" column indicating whether or not the installed add-in supports client-side installation on Macintosh-based client computers.

• Each time the Dashboard starts, Add-ins Tab Extender will automatically check to see if any installed add-ins have updates available, and if so, it will prompt the user if they would like to install the available updates.

Additionally, Add-ins Tab Extender adds a completely new "Add-in Central" subtab to the Dashboard's "Add-ins" ("APPLICATIONS") tab/page, allowing you to discover and track useful add-ins right from within the server Dashboard application. Enhance your Windows Server Solutions Experience by browsing for add-ins by name, author, category, cost, or even community rated popularity (download counts, likes, and dislikes). Useful descriptions, as well as screenshot, homepage, support, and purchase links are provided to help with your add-in discovery process. Once you have located an add-in that looks interesting, Add-in Central can download its .WSSX installation file for you, allowing for a hassle-free installation process.

 

Add-in Central features:

 

• Browse for add-ins by name, author, category, cost, or by community rated popularity.

• Detailed add-in information ranging from add-in descriptions to screenshot, support, and purchase links.

• Direct .WSSX download links available for most add-ins.

• Seamless Dashboard integration; conveniently rate add-ins directly from inside of the Dashboard and more.

• Quickly report any problems with an add-in (such as broken links, outdated description, etc.).

• Easily submit new add-ins using a simple web-based form; if your favorite add-in isn't in the list, you can submit it.

• Optimized for performance using clever client-side caching.

• Anonymous operation ensures no identifiable information is being transferred.

Add-ins Tab Extender was designed for use with the following Windows Server Solutions:

 

• Windows Home Server 2011 (WHS)

• Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials (SBS)

• Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials (WSS)

• Windows Server 2012 Essentials (WSE)

• Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials (WSE)

• Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard with the Windows Server Essentials Experience (WSEE) server role
      SEE: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn280940.aspx

Add-ins Tab Extender can be used completely free of charge for small office/home office (SOHO) use.

 

 

Here's a screenshot of the extended/enhanced "Add-ins" ("APPLICATIONS") subtab:

ate_01.png

 

 

Here's a screenshot of the new "Add-in Central" subtab:

ate_04.png

 

 

And here are the same two screenshots only for the Windows Server 2012 (R2) Essentials version: 

ate_07.png

 

ate_10.png

 

 

If you would like to give Add-ins Tab Extender (with Add-in Central) a try, you can download it from my website at:

 

http://www.TheOfficeMaven.com/AddinsTabExtender/

 

The add-in is completely free of charge. If it ends up sticking around, it'll be my gift to the community for all of the support they have given me over the years.

 

I hope everyone enjoys the new add-in, and I look forward to hearing your questions, comments, and/or concerns.

 

Mike Craven

The Office Maven

http://www.TheOfficeMaven.com

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Excellent news. Add-in Central was one of my favorite add-ins. Like an old friend. I was sad to see it go. So it's fantastic that it's been reborn to work on WHS2011 and up.

 

A BIG THANK YOU MIKE. B):)

 

UPDATE: it's installed on my SBS2011 Essentials and my DX4000 (Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials) boxes.

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Definitely liking it so far.

 

Though I'm not exactly fond of how you're handling the already installed Add-Ins. But hey, it's a first version. And overall, I'm very impressed.

 

And keep up the good work Mike (matt :P)

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Thanks for the kind words everyone.

 

@Drashna - I'm totally open for suggestions. If you have any ideas on how I should improve upon the handling of already installed add-ins, then please do let me know and I'll see what I can to do improve ATE in that area. BTW, I assume that you are talking about on the "Add-in Central" subtab here seeing as the "Add-ins" subtab is pretty much how Microsoft designed it (excluding the minor enhancements that I have made to it that is). Basically, Microsoft provided the backend for developers to hook their add-ins into (as far as updates, subscriptions/trials, etc. go), and I just filtered through that API and presented more of the information to the end-user that Microsoft was keeping hidden behind-the-scenes.

 

It's nice to see the counts starting to go up in Add-in Central. Now I need to spend some time working on getting more add-ins into the list. I can really use everyone's help here as I've already overextended myself on this project as far as time goes. Hopefully, I'll get the list expanded some more over the weekend.

 

Thanks again everyone.

 

-- MIKE

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Also, how will you handle beta vs stable versions? :)

 

I haven't given much thought to that I'm afraid.

 

The old Add-in Central from WHS V1 spent a whole lot of time and effort trying to contend with different versions of the add-ins within the list (as well as their updates, etc.). Unfortunately, it became unwieldy and was one of the reasons for its demise. Therefore, I was really hoping to leave versioning out of this newer (and simpler) version of Add-in Central. The less back-end work the add-in takes, the more likely it is to survive the test of time (especially seeing as it's a freebie without any, ads, sponsorship, etc.).

 

If a developer builds their add-ins following the SDK, then all of the versioning stuff should be completely handled by Microsoft (a la the built-in "Add-ins" subtab). Add-in Central deals with add-ins based on their Package ID (GUID) which, if done properly, should be held constant (by the developer) across all versions of the add-in (including beta releases).

 

-- MIKE

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TheOfficeMaven,

 

When you get a chance, can you add a donate link to the About page ? I would like to contribute a small amount $$

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Hi Diehard,

 

I really appreciate that, but it just isn't necessary. Add-ins Tab Extender is a gift from me to the community and so there's no need for any donations. The best thing folks can do to help me out is to submit their favorite add-ins using the "Submit an add-in" task located on the Add-in Central subtab (just as you have - thx BTW!). Once Add-ins Tab Extender has been up and running for a while, I'll see how big of a hit I'm taking on the backend ($-wise), and I'll let everyone know if it's costing too much for me to continue hosting the data on my server. I've set Add-in Central up so that it should be pretty easy on my server though. I'm expecting there to be a biggish hit initially, but it should calm down as we get the add-in list filled up.

 

Thanks again.

 

-- MIKE

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