Embeddable .NET Released for 2007 Office Extensions

Microsoft ships successor to Visual Basic for Applications.

Microsoft released its embedded .NET programming model for use within applications, ostensibly leaving the popular Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) development environment behind with 2007 Office System.

In late March, Microsoft shipped version 1 of the successor to VBA, called Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Applications (VSTA), which is integrated into Office InfoPath 2007 and Visual Studio 2005. It supports customization of .NET and COM apps. Redmond hasn't announced plans to integrate VSTA into other Office apps, but the software development kit (SDK) is available for download on MSDN.

VSTA is a "full-fledged .NET programming model that lives within the application, similar to what VBA offered before it, but obviously with much better security and a much better programming model, and also much more consistent with the overall direction of Microsoft," says Chris Bryant, senior product manager, Office Platform Marketing team at Microsoft. VSTA was also designed from the ground up for scalability, he says.

Within InfoPath, developers can take advantage of its XML capabilities and then use VSTA to customize a form, or to call a Web service, or pull information from multiple data sources and combine it into one view of that data. "And [developers can] have strong business logic, which is something that the .NET framework does very well," says Jay Roxe, group product manager for Visual Studio.

VBA, designed as an embeddable IDE for Visual Basic 6.0 programming against COM, lacks the security and other advanced programming controls needed for today's work environments, according to Microsoft. VBA 6.3 is the latest and final version and is integrated within Microsoft Office XP and its individual applications. Microsoft will continue to support VBA in its present form, says Roxe.

Even so, its use is widespread. VBA is licensed by roughly 350 ISVs, according to Roxe. "These are companies that we see now starting to target VSTA and integrating that into applications. As with Office, they're integrating it alongside of their existing VBA support. VBA is something that's going to continue to be supported within Office and we imagine will continue to be supported by third-party ISVs."

Developers can also hand off VSTA projects to Visual Studio 2005 Tools for the 2007 Office System (VSTO) and continue their development, which is not the case with VBA customizations. VSTO "is the premiere tool for building all of the client-side capability for extensible add-ins," explains Bryant.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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