Microsoft takes Visual Studio to the Office

Just one week before the launch of Microsoft Office 2003, Microsoft Canada Co. unveiled a set of developer tools that allow programmers to build software and services for the new version of Office.

“Microsoft Office is a productivity suite as well as a development platform,” said Lenny Louis, product manager of .Net developer tools with Microsoft Canada.

By making rich client application development available on the Office system, Louis said Microsoft is taking the best of both worlds – capturing everything that useful in both the browser-based and rich-based applications.

“Visual Studio Tools for Office…already has powerful application development capabilities with the server, Explorer, Windows forms, ActiveX Data Objects (ADO), as well as dynamic help,” Louis said. “We are allowing the developers to use what they are familiar with. At the same time, when they create applications, they can create applications to give users what they are familiar with.”

Developers can write Visual Basic or C+ code behind Excel 2003 and Word 2003. For a developer, that means they can build out applications for the Web and can add functionality that already exists within the Office platform – functionality such as spell checker and grammar checking.

“Developers are using the same skills for a vast array of client requirements,” Louis said. Because developers only need to know one skill set to develop applications on both the Office platform and .Net, development within Office is opened up to mass developers, he added.

Ease of deployment and faster development times are two reasons why Kate Gregory, partner of Gregory Consulting Ltd. in Peterborough, Ont. is excited about the new tools.

During a demonstration earlier this month, Gregory said she has access to the .Net framework, Office XML, databases, encryption and Web services. With the same library and the same tool set for development, Gregory said a Windows programmer could also now start programming Office.

The key, Louis explained, is that there is less code to write. This in turn means there is less code to maintain and, overall, the total cost of ownership will decrease.

Internally at Gregory Consulting, the company is using a combination of InfoPath technology and Front Page together with both Excel and Word documents to create project-tracking software. Using Visual Studio Tools the company is working to create a database of the developers within the company and its projects.

The developer tools have been in beta for approximately eight months and are available today on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN).

The Visual Studio family product contains: Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System; Access Developer Extensions 2003; SQL Server 2000 Developer Edition; and Visual Basic .Net Standard 2003. It is available now for $299 for the CAD upgrade and a hosted trial is available at