Software Application Add-ins and Add-ons

John Eccles, 14 June 2021

What are they and what’s the difference?

An add-in is a software program that expands the capabilities of bigger programs. It is a term commonly used by Microsoft and other platforms which have additional functions that can be added to primary programs.

An add-on is a software extension that adds extra features to a program. It may extend certain functions within the program, add new items to the program's interface, or give the program additional capabilities.

Expansion vs extension. There’s a difference, but it’s not very clear to me in the context of a software application. Both offer added functionality.

Such add-ins /add-ons may be provided by the main Application provider (such as Microsoft) or by third parties. I want to discuss add-ins / add-ons from parties other than the provider of the main application, because that is where some potential issues lie.

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My Perspective

Magnetism is a specialist in Microsoft D365 and the Power Platform. We provide consultancy, development and support services to clients mainly in New Zealand.

We have developed some of our own add-ins / add-ons to D365 which we provide to clients in New Zealand and internationally and have done for the last 8 years. We also provide add-ins / add-ons from third parties to our clients to expand / extend their D365 systems. In addition, we have first-hand experience of add-in /add-ons within our own D365 system.

Examples:

1. Dialog Builder for Dynamics 365 from Magnetism. Dialog Builder allows creation of fully customisable dialogs and popups in Dynamics 365, using custom fields, buttons, messages, and icons. It enables capture of input from users with a variety of different field types, displayed in a seamless Dynamics 365 style popup.

2. DocumentsCorePack from mscrm-addons. Based on MS Word-templates, DocumentsCorePack provides a set of tools to create and process documents effectively. With a document generation wizard that guides users through the process to full document automation, DocumentsCorePack enables business documents to look professional and be processed efficiently.

The Pros

The alternative to using an add-in / add-on to provide extra functionality for the main application is to have it developed for you. With that in mind, the reasons for using an add-in / add-on are clear:

· It’s less expensive – in most cases a LOT less expensive.

· It’s faster – minutes rather than weeks or months.

The Cons

The proliferation and widespread use of add-ins /add-ons demonstrates that the significant advantages of using them frequently outweighs the issues that may be involved. But there are issues:

· The add-in / add-on may not be a perfect fit – probably won’t be a perfect fit. However, the main application is rarely a perfect fit with your business processes and a less-than-perfect fit is often okay.

· It may not even work if your system is non-standard because it has been customised.

· The support available may not be up to the same standard as the main application. If the additional functionality is critical, this might be a show-stopper.

· When the main application is upgraded, as is D365 every six months, the add-in / add-on may stop working properly. The provider might choose not to upgrade the add-in / add-on, or they may no longer be in business.

· It can be time-consuming and annoying to have multiple suppliers of multiple add-ins. It makes the whole payment and vendor-management more complicated.

· Sometimes there is additional components with an add-in / add-on that won’t be used within your system.

Some Tips

1. Try before you buy. Most add-ins / add-ons offer a free trial. Install the trial into a Test environment and test it thoroughly. Does it do enough of what you need to be worthwhile? Does it create other problems in the system?

2. If you have a partner who supports your use of the main application, then explore the possibility of purchasing through that partner. Often it will not cost more because the partner will receive a re-seller discount – like Magnetism does when we re-sell DocumentsCorePack. And your application partner should be able to support you in your use of the add-in / add-on.

3. Do a few checks on the add-in / add-on provider. How long have they been in business? Are they likely to be there in five years’ time?

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