Office 11 tools up for .NET

Dev platform consolidation

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Microsoft Corp is planning tools for XML web services in the next version of Office, tying the company's popular desktop productivity suite more tightly into .NET,

writes Gavin Clarke

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The company yesterday announced Visual Studio Tools for Office, a set of tools that enable developers to build Word and Excel macros using Visual Basic.NET or C Sharp and to use other features of Microsoft's latest development environment.

Visual Studio Tools for Office will be available in the middle of 2003, with the planned launch of Microsoft's next version of Office, codenamed Office 11. No final date has publicly been announced for the launch of either.

Visual Studio Tools for Office bring Office developers into the .NET world. Developers building macros for Office have used Microsoft's Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), an integrated development environment (IDE) based on Microsoft's Visual Basic language.

However, Microsoft is consolidating its separate development environments around the XML-based Visual Studio.NET IDE, funneling both Windows platform and application developers towards .NET and XML Web services.

Microsoft has spiked separate PocketPC and Windows CE IDEs, folding them into Visual Studio.NET. Developers targeting the planned Yukon edition of SQL Server will be able to program for the database with an updated release of Visual Studio.NET.

Microsoft denied VBA would be eliminated or that Visual Studio Tools for Office is a first step in phasing out VBA. Visual Studio lead product manager Robert Green said: "VBA is an important part of Office, and remains an important part of Office."

VBA will be continued in parallel with Visual Studio Tools for Office to give developers "increased choice" a company spokesperson said separately.

Green said Visual Studio Tools for Office are designed to give developers targeting Office access to Visual Studio.NET's features. These include the .NET Framework for XML Web services, intellisense auto-completion and code editor to speed development.

"These are the tools you want your developers using," said Green.

Code developed in Visual Studio Tools for Office will also be slightly different to VBA. Macros will run behind Work and Excel, the first Office 11 applications to support rich XML through Microsoft's XML parser, rather than be associated to a particular keystroke or set of instructions.

Other features in Office 11, meanwhile, include smart documents that are designed to further attract developers. Smart documents are based on the underlying XML infrastructure and enable creation of XML-based documents that provide end-users with data, help, content and workflow unique to their company or industry. Developers will be able to program to the Office 11 task pane, enabling users to pull up context-sensetive help or workflow instructions.

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