Tools for the new Office System

Earlier last week and with no small fanfare, Bill Gates introduced Microsoft Office System. For developers, the new action centers on Visual Studio Tools (VST) for the Microsoft Office System, also unveiled last week.

The new toolset is designed to allow developers using Visual Studio .NET 2003 to use Visual Basic .NET and Visual C# .NET to write code behind Word- and Excel-based applications and to take advantage of familiar Office interfaces and easy deployment.

Microsoft clearly wants to enable developers with Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) expertise to leverage their existing skill set. Specifically, the new toolset provides full access to the Word and Excel object models, say company reps, along with IntelliSense statement completion when developers write code against these object models.

Microsoft is also pairing the Office Access 2003 Developer Extensions with the new toolset and offering them at an upgrade price to users of the previous Office Developer Edition products. The Access 2003 Developer Extensions provide the tools and resources developers need to create, test and deploy Microsoft Access solutions.

But perhaps most important, given the growing demand for Web services, Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System support XML and XML Web Services. Microsoft's implementation of XML in the toolset should allow developers to tie Web services into Office apps, and to support connections between Office documents and corporate computing resources. To do that, developers are going to have to do some customizing, says Eric Rudder, senior VP of Microsoft's Servers and Tools Group.

As the company explains on its Web site, "[U]sing customer-defined XML schemas and XML Web services in Office 2003 Editions, developers can more easily build documents and applications that connect with business processes and data. The results are greater productivity for developers, a shorter learning curve for end users and more powerful solutions for businesses."

At least one early user of the new toolset supports it. Peter Gassner, senior VP and GM of's sforce Products Division, said the San Francisco-based on-demand CRM services vendor has been using VST for the Office System to develop "starter kits" that "address common business scenarios," including a Microsoft Word-based proposal generator that leverages Office 2003 to ease complex document approval processes.

Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System is priced at $499 for the full version and $199 for customers using another Microsoft developer product. For more information about Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System, please go to


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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at


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