At the PDC this week, Microsoft continued to expand its array of Office tools offerings with the surprise announcement of Visual Studio Tools for Applications (VSTA). Although the software has many similarities to Microsoft's VSTO Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) product, it is aimed more at independent software vendors (ISVs).
Both products help developers -- and even end users -- customize Office-centric and Windows-centric applications once they are deployed. However, while VSTA is expected to formally ship next year concurrent with release of Office "12," the next version of VSTO will ship as part of the much-awaited Visual Studio 2005 offering in November.
Both products offer ways to bring elements of the popular Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) program into the world of the .NET framework. Despite these innovations, the popular VBA tool, best known for its ability to record desktop activity and convert this into programmatic macros, will continue to be supported in the next Office version, according to Microsoft.
"When we looked at VBA we saw a wide range of skills and a wide range of complexity of applications," said K.D. Hallman, general manager for VSTA and VSTO solutions at Microsoft. But, she noted, "there was a ceiling to the use of VBA. There was a tight bundling of the tools and runtime." This bundling spawned some inherent security issues that were in all likelihood among the driving forces leading to Microsoft's development of .NET
VBA will ship again in Office 12, Hallman said, but its use in all cases is not endorsed by Microsoft. "Where customers are concerned with security, we recommend they use the .NET Framework," she said.
VSTA is targeted at ISVs and systems integrators who embed the runtime and even an end-user IDE into their packaged applications, Hallman said. Integrators or end users can fine-tune their customizations using Visual Basic .NET or C#.
Furthermore, VSTA allows macro recording, Hallman noted, adding, "An ISV can decide to turn it on or off."
With the next Office on the way, it appears VSTA offers ISVs a better means to deal with their VBA legacy. VSTA projects can be opened in Visual Studio 2005, giving professional developers full access to the Visual Studio 2005 environment by using the object model definitions of Visual Studio.
Increased support for ISVs was one of the themes of this week's PDC. At the show, Microsoft announced the Windows Vista Partner Showcase Program, a $100 million investment to drive Windows Vista [not to be confused with VSTA] application development.
VSTA was one of many tools displayed at PDC. Also shown were tools for Microsoft Workflow Foundation development, and the Expression family of graphic design tools, which includes the Acrylic Graphic Designer, the Sparkle Interactive Designer and the Quartz Web site designer, some of which produce XAML output immediately usable by developers.