Building an Outlook add-in: Context Menu of Contact Card in Outlook 2010

Before going *any* further with VSTO code, I am taking some very good advice I gave myself a couple of years ago and installing some of the VSTO Power Tools (just the VSTO_PT.exe package) – specifically to obtain the VSTO Developer Cleaner and the VSTO Troubleshooter.  I recall both of these being very helpful, the last time I went down this path.

Note also: I am *not* going to pursue the Office Interop API Extensions.  I am aware they’re targeted specifically at easing C# development of VSTO apps in Word, Excel and Outlook.  However, after reading PhillipHoff’s blog that “documented” them, the near-total lack of a deployment story is enough to encourage me to tough it out without ‘em:

“You are correct in that the User Guide does not explicitly state that you cannot use VSTO_PTExtLibs.exe to redistribute the extension assemblies, but as you found, the installer has a dependency check which prevents it from being used for that purpose.

“You have two basic options for distributing the extension assembly: either a custom installer that places it in the GAC or another common location, or side-by-side the referencing assembly.”

Heh, yeah right.  A year or two ago I feel down the rabbit hole of developing a custom setup package for a Word VSTO app add-in.  That sucked me dry for months, and I never got any satisfaction out of it (tho it’ll probably save me a couple of months this time around).  *Voluntarily* adding to my pain by trying to install a helper assembly of dubious provenance and poor support?  Not bloody likely my friends.


Creating a WPF Control for use within Outlook 2010

Diving back into this video tutorial.  Already stuck on one of the first steps – adding the WPF “User Control” to the ElementHost winforms container.  Even though I’m able to successfully build the project, there’s no WPF user control to add to the ElementHost (at least that’s what the ElementHost “Select Hosted Content” taskpane is indicating.  Google it is… searching on elementhost “select hosted content” none:

…actually, I just remembered how many articles I’ve been skimming are focused so strongly on .NET Framework 4, so first I decided to re-target the VSTO project to .NET 4.  For some reason that seems to have wiped out the piece of code that contained the ElementHost-including form, so perhaps that’ll clear up the problem I’ve been having.

I ended up Building the project and failing, needing to add a Reference to System.Xaml (from the .NET 4 namepsace) to one of the .CS files.  Once I did that, magically I was able to add either of the XAML user controls I’d tried to create as children of the ElementHost object.  Amazing.

I’m re-trying this approach with an Office Ribbon (XML) item as is outlined in Customizing the Context Menu of a Contact Card in Outlook 2010.  I change the button element’s id, label, and onAction XML parameters, then run this article’s VB-only code through a VB-to-C# converter to import into my code.  Each time I have to fill in a few blanks along the way – figuring out which method to add to my code, to which CS library, and matching some undeclared variable names and using statements up with orphaned code in the sample.  What moron would expect a “Visual How To” from Microsoft to ever run without a ton of band-aid work to actually fill in boring-but-essential components?

Once I figured out how this sample code would instantiate the Ribbon (XML) item, I only have two more tasks before I start binding the XAML to its data source:

  1. instantiating the XAML-encapsulated-in-WinForms control, and
  2. creating the Callback Methods that are hinted at (but not spelled out) in the Ribbon (XML) //TODO section (automatically generated by Visual Studio when I created the Ribbon (XML) object.

Yeah, that should be easy.  Callbacks – is that like in the theatre?  Hell, for all *I* know, (2) is where I *implement* (1).

Aha!  Apparently I’m not far off from the truth – the Walkthrough: Creating a Custom Tab by Using Ribbon XML says:

You must add onAction callback methods for the Insert Text and Insert Table buttons to perform actions when the user clicks them.

Right right right – so the meaning of “callbacks” is coming slowly back to me – at least in the context of button pushing. 🙂


Problem: UserControl doesn’t Show()

I spent some time looking for a suitable approach to rendering the WPF Element Host-ing user control, and tried a couple of approaches, but none work so far.  The approach I’ve landed on instantiates a new instance of the Class that hosts the ElementHost (here called “DataDetails”), then calls the .Show() method for the object instance, like so:

DataDetails dataDisplay = new DataDetails();

However nothing appears visible when I click the new context menu item in Outlook 2010.  Here’s what I’ve tried, none of which tells me why this won’t display:

  • follow the .Show() call with calling the BringToFront() method, in case somehow the user control was being hidden behind Outlook
  • added a straight System.Windows.Forms class to the project (called it my Debug window), then instantiate it as for the DataDetails class instance and call the ShowDialog() or Show() method [which works]
  • did a line-by-line debug of this area of my code [which proves that every line of code is being called – nothing skipped – but the ElementHost is still not showing up]

Re-examining the Debug vs. DataDetails objects, I’m pretty convinced that using the Form class is easy, but there’s some step I’m still missing when using the UserControl class.  This is borne out when I merely substitute “Form” in place of the original “UserControl” for the partial inheritance, like so:

public partial class DataDetails : Form


    public DataDetails() {  InitializeComponent(); }


Further Research References

Aside: the specific Context Menu I’m manipulating here is sometimes called the Persona Context Menu (at least by the article Extending the User Interface in Outlook 2010).  I have a feeling that will be a very useful phrases in my current research.

Other articles I’ll probably need to almost immediately:

Here are some other articles I expect I’ll need in the future:

Finally, here are some possible sources of working code that I’ve found in my travels:


One thought on “Building an Outlook add-in: Context Menu of Contact Card in Outlook 2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s