Embed PowerPoint or Excel from Office Web Apps

Microsoft announced today a terrific new way to embed PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets into web pages using the new Office Live web apps.  There are definitely some gotchas to consider, however before going full steam ahead with these great new abilities.  First, let’s take a look at the video that explains it all, and then we’ll consider the implications for our academic environment.  (Play time = 7:36, but worth it):

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The video is interesting, but if you will notice, the presenters never get around to telling you exactly where to get that all important embed code.  It’s simple enough, but they ought to have shown it.  Here’s how.

First, the PowerPoint or Excel file must be saved to your SkyDrive in a PUBLIC folder.  It won’t work if it isn’t.  Then, navigate to that public folder, open it, and click the More drop-down next to the file you want to embed.  Click the 1,,) Share > Embed link and you will be taken to 2) a page with the embed code:

Simply copy the code and paste it in to your blog or web page, using the paste html function, and your done…  Or are you?

Here come the gotchas.

Notice that the Microsoft developer demonstrating the technique uses a blogger.com blog to show how easy it is.  Try it in a WordPress.com blog and it won’t work.  This is a bit ironic, since Microsoft Live Spaces just announced that they have thrown in the towel on their blogging effort and have contracted with WordPress.com to migrate all user blogs to WordPress.com.

Why does it not work in WordPress?  Because of the code.  If you read it, you will notice that it is embedded using an iframe, and since a lot of malicious things can be done with iframes, WordPress.com, and many other web-based applications, will strip out iframe code.

Let me hasten to say, this will not be true at your Palomar College web site.  You can iframe to your hearts content, and the embed code will work fine on District web pages, but not in a WordPress.com blog AND ESPECIALLY NOT IN BLACKBOARD.

In Blackboard the case is more complicated, and worse, by far.  The problem is that Blackboard version 8, the one we are currently running, will NOT strip the iframe code when inserted in an item using HTML mode, and the embed will work, but once embedded, you will lose the Modify, Copy, Remove management controls to the embedded item, and you will have no way to remove it from your course.  Do NOT use iframe code to embed SkyDrive PowerPoint and Excel files directly into a Blackboard content area (or any other objects, for that matter).  Rather, use an external link to a Palomar (or other) web page where you have already embedded the file, and things will work fine.

Here is a sample external link to an embedded PowerPoint.  (Note the control at the lower left to go full-screen.  Once there, you can display notes, which is a very nice touch).

In Blackboard 9.1, which we will be deploying in the spring of 2011 and which you have access to now through our sandbox implementation, the case is not as bad.  You can embed the file directly into a Blackboard content area using the iframe technique, but once embedded, you cannot delete it and cannot add further content to that area (though it is possible to edit it and thereby delete the iframe code).  The recommended way to embed objects in Blackboard 9 is through a mashup, and a mashup for SkyDrive files does not yet exist.  You could use a Slideshare Presentation mashup for a PowerPoint file, but that’s another story.

My advice for Blackboard 9 is the same.  Use an external link and you will be fine.  You could, if you really wanted, import a package file containing the html page, but why go to the trouble, and bloat the size of your course, when you don’t need to and nothing is to be gained by it?  External links are your best bet.

While this new feature from the Microsoft web app team is very welcome, it now needs support from WordPress to develop a shortcode and Blackboard to develop a mashup, for it to be truly useful and simple for the average user.